Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

We see a huge opportunity in India's affluent, urban population: BBC Worldwide

BBC Worldwide, that recently launched the Sony BBC Earth channel, is confident that there is an untapped market for factual entertainment in the country

Shruti Venkatesh
Published: Apr 13, 2017 07:38:21 AM IST
Updated: Apr 13, 2017 12:05:19 PM IST

We see a huge opportunity in India's affluent, urban population: BBC Worldwide
India is a key focus market for BBC Worldwide’s Executive VP (Asia) David Weiland and Myleeta Aga, senior VP & general manager (Southeast Asia and South Asia)
Image: Joshua Navalkar

BBC Worldwide, the wholly-owned commercial arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), has taken several initiatives to strengthen its presence in India. In January, the company inked a licensing deal with Amazon India to stream its content on the ecommerce major’s video streaming service Amazon Prime and in March, it launched the premium factual entertainment channel Sony BBC Earth in partnership with Sony Pictures Networks India.

Forbes India met BBC Worldwide’s Executive Vice President (Asia) David Weiland and Myleeta Aga, senior vice president & general manager (Southeast Asia and South Asia), to discuss what makes India an important market for the company, the launch of their new channel and plans for expansion. Edited excerpts:

Q. What are your expectations from India?
David Weiland: India is one of our key focus markets. I manage the Asia region, which has about 25 countries and India is in the top three. The region receives the highest focus because of its huge growth potential. We are in a good position here because we have got channels, branded services, production and licensing. Now, it is about growing these businesses. We see a huge opportunity in India’s large population that is increasingly becoming more affluent and urban; as that happens, they become more open to international content. We are in a world [where technology is] changing rapidly and Asia is at the forefront of this change. We want all our brands and businesses represented here.

Q. What led to the withdrawal of BBC Entertainment and CBeebies channels from India in 2012?

Weiland: In India, we had channels that we operated on our own. When we launched those, there were great expectations that the pay TV business model would change and digitisation would effectively bring India more in line with pay TV in the world. That didn’t happen. [Delays in digitisation coupled with the need for channel operators to pay cable platforms made the prospect of running a channel unviable in India.] And it has still not happened even though we are in phase IV of digitisation. So we decided against managing individual channels. Now, more than four years later, we feel that the partnership or joint venture (JV) route is much better.

Q. …which is why you launched Sony BBC Earth in partnership with Sony?

Weiland: Yes. We feel that to get our brand in the market successfully, and reach as many people as possible, partnership is the best way. The deal for Sony BBC Earth worked because Sony wanted to get into the premium factual entertainment space and we had a great relationship with them, which started about eight years ago with production and TV licensing on their AXN channel. The JV structure is 74:26.

Q What are the original programming hours for the new channel? And what is the target audience?
Weiland: The original programming hours are currently 19 a week, but operationally it depends on Sony; we are just providing content and editorial advice and expertise. The target audience is quite wide from 15-40 [age group], men and women. The sweet spot will be the young, metro, aspirational audience which is curious about the world.

Q. What is the state of the factual entertainment industry in India?
Myleeta Aga: It’s very nascent. But there is a lot of potential for factual story telling. The hope is that with the launch of Sony BBC Earth, there will be category growth as well. [The market for] factual entertainment has been fairly static for a long while.

Q. Will you look at local production?
Weiland: Currently, all shows will be sourced from BBC. Over time, we will be producing local content. We have a healthy content production business here. So there is a lot of Indian content that the audience will see soon. Plus, the channel has been launched in four languages—English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

Aga: Also, though there is new and original content globally, it’s the global hits that attract audiences. So whether it is Sherlock or Friends or our landmark series Planet Earth 2 (which will be showcased on BBC Earth and is presented by David Attenborough), our belief is that compelling stories will be successful. Local content is popular, but a majority of the content transcends boundaries.

Q. Is there a new strategy to increase market share in India?
Weiland: India is one among the eight markets [others include US, South Africa and Germany] where we have production units. And that’s a recognition of the desire in India for local content, power of some of our brands and the stamp of quality which BBC can bring to production. We are looking at what’s the best route to market our premium drama and kids’ content.

Aga: Ultimately we are a content company. We aren’t just a channel, distribution or production business. That’s given us an advantage because we have a number of different routes to market. It could be by bringing content from the UK or creating it in local markets and licensing it out to other channels and digital platforms.

Q. Is digital an integral part of your content distribution strategy?
: More and more opportunities for our content are becoming available in the digital format. We have just signed a volume deal with Amazon India for factual and kids’ content, we work with [video streaming apps] Hungama, Vuclip, Voot and have a global deal with Netflix. Two years ago we were doing only linear channel licensing; now we are doing almost as much in digital.