BBC Worldwide confirms international channel changes

bbc worldwide logoThe BBC’s commercial arm has confirmed its new premium content channel brand will be known as BBC First, ahead of the net’s first launch on Australian pay TV platform Foxtel next year, and outlined plans for major investment in new programming.

BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie said the service would be launched on linear and non-linear platforms, as a new channel and as a rebrand of unnamed existing services. He also announced a £200 million (€237 million) investment in premium content.

The channel brand will carry premium drama and “high quality first run British programming”, meaning that BBC Entertainment, which runs shows including Doctor Who and Eastenders, is one of the brands potentially under threat, as is factual channel BBC Knowledge. A BBC spokeswoman said these brands were under review but that no decision as to their future had been made at this stage.

The network will launch on a market-by-market basis from next year, and the previously announced joint venture with Foxtel will be the first to take the ‘First’ moniker next August.

BBC and Foxtel first announced the new channel last year after BBCWW ended the pubcaster’s 50-year association with the ABC. Foxtel’s director of programmes Brian Walsh told DTVE sister publication TBI the network would be “something totally new” for Australia’s burgeoning pay TV customer base.

Meanwhile, the BBC Earth channel will rebrand as BBCWW’s premium factual content portal, while a third, currently unnamed male-skewing network will place factual entertainment and “the maverick spirit of the BBC’s best shows” at its heart. This means shows such as Top Gear will run on the net. The BBC Earth brand has already launched as a branded block in numerous territories.

The £200 million investment represents a forecasted £30 million annual increase and will result in “closer collaboration” with BBC Productions, indies and BBCWW’s own production hubs, the latter through new first-look deals, in-house funded commissions, coproductions and on-demand content development.

Davie was drafted in replace John Smith as BBCWW CEO last year and has set about boosting the unit’s profitability. Worldwide made topline profits of £156 million and revenue of £1.1 billion in 2012/13.