BBCS creates content care packages

The highly lucrative commercial production-distribution arm of the BBC is soon to receive a shot in the arm when current chief executive Tim Davie, departs to become the 17th BBC director general.

The sales side of BBC Studios, which merged with the BBC’s production business in 2018, has benefited the decision to allow the latter to produce content for third party broadcasters for the first time.

The distribution division holds a catalogue of around 40,000 hours’ worth of content, spanning all the major genres, such as big-budget BBC2 and Amazon scripted co-pro Good Omens and BBC1 blue-chip natural history series Planet Earth.

With seven bases worldwide, partnerships in a multitude of countries and stakes in the likes of BritBox and BBC America, it is a global powerhouse, posting revenues of more than £400m in 2019 and owning a catalogue of well over 40,000 premium hours.

The distribution arm also has stakes in 15 indies – some with exclusive distribution tie-ups attached – with Steve Coogan’s Baby Cow Productions, Killing Eve producer Sid Gentle Films and The End of the F***ing World indie Clerkenwell Films among them.

A recent restructure saw president of global markets Paul Dempsey taking on a New York-based role overseeing all international sales and distribution, and all eyes will be on Davie’s replacement as chief executive when they are announced.

Last year, BBCS increased its returns to the BBC by more than 15% to £243m. In the past seven years, it has returned £1.5bn to the BBC purse.

Salim Mukaddam, who was recently promoted to become senior vice-president of co-production and content sales in EMEA, says the priority when Covid-19 broke out was to “be as good a partner as we can”.

BBCS reached out to buyers whose schedules were being decimated with an "emergency package" of programming that contained additional runs and made some new content available.

“We have strong, established relationships with partners and wanted to be fair and reasonable,” says Mukaddam. “Buyers want to know where good content is and want to make sure they have access to it, so we are busier than we would normally be at this point in time.”

Since lockdown, activity has been up around 10%, with content deals in China and Germany are on the horizon and another “huge output deal” in an unnamed territory is soon to be concluded.

Escapist, repeatable content – such as Clerkenwell Films and Cosmopolitan Pictures’ daytime drama The Mallorca Files – is in high demand from BBCS’s catalogue. This is preferably recently-produced programming, so that it still has an original feel to it.

“This is exactly what people want to watch right now – beautiful people in beautiful places,” says Mukkadam. “There is a huge demand for resonating content, the environment is increasingly competitive, and buyers are looking further into our back catalogue.”

Meanwhile, potentially Covid-proof formats such as Dancing with the Stars have picked up traction, with countries such as Germany and Russia continuing to produce the format under lockdown conditions.

Mukkadam says “great deals” have also been struck with buyers in territories like Spain and Australia, territories hard hit by the slowdown in US content production.

Mukaddam hopes buyers will turn more to acquisitions as time goes on.

“Some partners are budgeting and re-budgeting to see where they are before they approach the market; they are seeing what happens to the ad market first,” he says.


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