CANNES, FRANCE - The theme for this year’s edition of MIPCOM is “The Big Shift,” and while it’s a topic that could have easily applied to the past several years in the content industry, it certainly has relevance for Tim Davie, CEO of the BBC’s recently established production and distribution arm, BBC Studios.
The division hit the ground running following the merger of the UK pubcaster’s production arm and its commercial sales unit, BBC Worldwide, in April of 2018. And while smaller producers and distributors competing for commissions and content might quibble with the terminology, Davie insisted during his Media Mastermind keynote interview at MIPCOM on Monday (October 15) that BBC Studios is “a big small company.”
Explaining the rationale behind merging the two divisions, Davie outlined the need for a USP that would make BBC Studios an attractive proposition for creative talent, especially at a time when the “speed of change is dizzying.”
“What we needed was to have a system where you could have an idea, have the funding to get it made, and bring it to market quickly,” he said.
“Content is king, talent is everything… We could list the cliches that every CEO will deliver but the issue is how good you are,” he added. “The heart of this is, as a creative, I can offer you a space where you can develop your work but also get it made.”
The combined firepower of the BBC’s formidable production resources and distribution reach has resulted in big non-fiction hits out of the gate (Blue Planet II), continued success for long-running franchises (Strictly Come Dancing) and commissions from other big players (The Red List for Discovery, Fatberg Autopsy for Channel 4). But even with its considerable clout, Davie says partnership is still a key component of the BBC Studios ethos.
“You have to look at where it’s appropriate to use other people to get scale,” he said. But importantly, the chief questions to ask when evaluating a potential partnership are, “Are we strategically aligned, and do we like each other? Life is too short to deal with horrible people.”
That comment generated a round of spontaneous applause, prompting Davie to reiterate, “We like working with people and we are certainly not arrogant enough to think we can do it alone.”
One new project making use of a major partnership is the natural history event series, Dynasties, presented once again by Sir David Attenborough and counting China’s Tencent as a copro partner. Citing blue chip natural history as both a key element of the BBC Studios brand and a consistent performer in the factual sphere, Davie maintained, “We are still going to chase those big moments,” even if they are challenging to produce, and expensive to deliver.
“These landmarks are about four years in the making and take real commitment,” he said. “The good news is you don’t have to pay the actors, but the bad news is you don’t really know what they’re going to do.”