Melanie Rumani on BBC Studios & UKTV Acquisition Strategies


Melanie Rumani, global head of acquisitions for BBC Studios and UKTV, is responsible for leading a team that sources and secures a diverse range of content for an array of pay-TV, AVOD and SVOD services in the U.K. and globally, including BBC and UKTV channels and platforms, as well as the UKTV Play free streaming service. Rumani spoke to World Screen about acquisition strategies, commissioning and rights negotiations. While linear and digital are in a state of flux, Rumani explains why her acquisition strategy is the same for both and what kind of content she and her team seek out.

WS: What is guiding your current acquisition strategy?
RUMANI: A number of factors guide our strategy. We acquire for a broad range of linear channels and on-demand services—seven in the U.K. (UKTV) and over 30 unique services across all continents, including for our BBC Select on-demand service in North America. Understandably, our audiences do vary in taste between territories; therefore, our remit can be quite broad.

For our UKTV channels, we do acquire English-language content from other territories, for example, CSI: Vegas from the U.S. for our Alibi channel and MasterChef Australia for W. Globally, our number one strategy is to take the very best of British TV to our audiences. So, we focus on U.K. originals—for example, the upcoming drama Boiling Point, fan-favorite Death in Paradise, Louis Theroux documentaries and Planet Earth III.

We have also heavily invested in UKTV’s free streaming service, UKTV Play, and this year, we have acquired more content for AVOD than we have in the past. Of particular success has been Madam Secretary and the brand-new drama Atlantic Crossing.

We continue to strengthen our relationships with the U.S. studios and our key suppliers. However, just as important are our relationships with smaller producers and distributors that we work with on prebuys, like Miss Scarlett and the Duke for Alibi, BBC First Benelux and BBC Brit in Africa.

If I had to sum up the strategy in one sentence: We want the very best content for our audiences.

WS: How much and what types of programming are you buying for pay TV? Can you break it down across the different channels?
RUMANI: A lot! We acquire programming across most genres, including preschool, drama, comedy and factual, including natural history, science and documentaries, as well as factual entertainment, game shows and quiz shows.

WS: And how about for AVOD and SVOD? How do the remits of buying for linear and digital differ?
RUMANI: They don’t differ at all really—we see our linear and on-demand audiences as one. The benefit of acquiring for our on-demand services like UKTV Play is that we are not limited by the number of hours in a day we can schedule!

WS: What are you currently on the lookout for at the moment in terms of acquisitions?
RUMANI: We are always on the lookout for great drama. We are also focusing on prebuys across drama and factual and like to work with partners at a very early stage, for example, like Miss Scarlet and the Duke, where we came on board very early for Alibi, BBC First Benelux and BBC Brit in Africa.

We find we are working more and more in this gray area between acquisition and commission. Every deal is unique and can be structured differently. Combined with the potential for a large territory footprint, we are a great partner to work with.

WS: What are you not seeing enough of in the marketplace that you’d like to pick up?
RUMANI: There is a lot of great content out there, and broadly we are well-served.  However, we’re always on the lookout for adventure and travelogues, like Iceland with Alexander Armstrong, and accessible science and engineering content, such as Inside the Factory. Also, strong factual entertainment like MasterChef and Sort Your Life Out. Plus, while chop-and-chat food cookery shows seem to be out of fashion in the U.K., our international audiences absolutely love them. We would like to see more of this content, and we’d particularly love to see new chefs breaking through. 

WS: How important is exclusivity for you?
RUMANI: Exclusivity against certain platforms is important; however, it really does depend on the title.

WS: Any other hot-button rights negotiating points for you these days?
RUMANI: Every day, it seems there is a new method of delivery and utility required, so it’s important we keep across these developments and are clear with our suppliers about what the red lines are for us.

WS: What, above all, do you want producers and distributors to know about how to land a show on your suite of channels and services?
RUMANI: If we are not already in touch with you, please do reach out. We have a fantastic, smart team of buyers who will be happy to talk through our services and what we’re looking for. Our remit is wide, but quality is important because any show must not look out of place next to a U.K. terrestrial title.