Exclusive Interview: BBC Worldwide’s Jana Bennett


PREMIUM: Jana Bennett, who late last week announced she would be exiting BBC Worldwide as part of a restructure, recently spoke to World Screen about the company’s expanding channel business in Latin America and the new opportunities emerging in markets like Brazil.

On Friday, BBC Worldwide announced that Bennett would be stepping down as president of worldwide networks and the Global iPlayer this fall. The move comes as the commercial arm of the British pubcaster reorganizes its worldwide business along regional lines: North America; the U.K.; Australia and New Zealand; Western Europe; Asia; and Latin America. In this exclusive interview, Bennett shares her perspective on BBC Worldwide’s channels business in Latin America.

WS: The launch of BBC HD was just announced for Brazil. How important is this market for BBC’s networks and what’s your strategy for reaching such a large audience, especially with a growing middle class?
BENNETT:  Bringing the channel to Brazil has been a long-standing ambition of ours. Being one of the world’s fastest growing television markets, Brazil has always been of great importance to BBC Worldwide, and through our exciting partnership with NET Serviços we are able to bring BBC HD, which launched on May 28, to the Brazilian audience.

You could say that the launch of a dedicated channel for the market is a natural progression on the BBC’s longstanding relationship with Brazil. As you may know, the BBC has a long history with Brazil, dating back to 1938 with the Corporation’s radio broadcasts in Portuguese. Through the news channel that followed, and the BBC Brazil website, we have been able to give the world a window into the country, and to take Brazil’s stories to a global audience in a balanced and impartial way. In a sense, all roads lead back to Brazil this year—the year of the Olympics. London will be handing the Olympic torch over to [Brazil] at the end of the Summer, setting in motion a fantastic chain of events that will see the eyes of the world turn to Brazil. And the BBC will be at the forefront of that great coverage.

So what better time to launch a dedicated entertainment channel for Brazil? With over 75 years in the television business, the BBC has created and owns some of the best-known and best-loved television brands in the world. We know that there is a strong appetite for our programs [there]. At the heart of our strategy is delivering the best of BBC programming. BBC HD is truly ‘Television Perfected.’ The channel offers the very best of the BBC, even better in HD. Its superior technical quality is matched with the creative excellence of BBC storytelling.

But BBC HD is not just about technical excellence; the channel will bring Brazil some of the world’s leading drama, documentaries, factual, entertainment and natural history, all in high definition.

WS: How do you think Brazil’s new legislation 12.485 will impact the way BBC schedules? Will it have a negative impact on BBC’s content?
BENNETT: The BBC is a great supporter of television industries in the U.K. and we are aware of the great talent that the television industry holds in Brazil. We are excited to bring local Brazilian content into BBC HD and, from day one, we included Brazilian local content in our schedule and will continue to do so.

WS:  Given the financial crunch in European countries, particularly Spain, how has the BBC Global iPlayer fared since its launch? Are there plans to roll out in Latin America or is the business model different for this region?
BENNETT:  I am really pleased with how well the global BBC iPlayer is doing. Since its launch in July 2011 the global iPlayer has met all its targets and we have continued to strengthen the content it offers—for example, in June, The Graham Norton Show became part of the app and in May we launched a host of sporting events.

We are doing a pilot so have been flexible about launching in a variety of markets, both English language and with English not as the primary language. We are piloting in order to establish a greater understanding of the appeal of our content and of the subscription model itself. We are concentrating on building out of our test markets and whilst we are looking at all territories, we cannot confirm any further ones at this stage.

WS: What growth opportunities do you see in Latin America and how will you be working with the region’s advertisers now that technology is quickly evolving and multiplatform content is more readily available?
BENNETT:  BBC Worldwide Channels already has a presence in Latin America—along with BBC Entertainment, CBeebies, our preschool cannel, launched in 2008. And we also distribute BBC World News in this market for many years. But the growth of the pay-TV market in Latin America offers us a real opportunity to expand this presence and launch more BBC brands in the region. For example, there is great demand for HD channels and content on the part of both consumers and affiliates. Industry analysts say that the number of HD subscribers has tripled in the last three years; and anticipate that by 2014, approximately 140 million households around the world are expected to subscribe to HD channels. The BBC is one of the world’s leading generators of HD content and is on track to deliver in 2012, 70 percent of its content in HD; leading to a desire on the company’s part to create this new branded platform to bring its world-famous and acclaimed content to Brazil and that is what today is possible with BBC HD. BBC HD will offer advertisers a unique space, to feature their commercials produced in high definition.

WS: With London Calling and Planet Earth Live, what are the challenges you face in launching these programs simultaneously around the world?
BENNETT: I firmly believe that creating these global events unite our viewers around the world and give them a real appointment to view. Across the 33 channels we run around the world, we can deliver synchronized BBC-branded schedules which allow us to deliver a truly British affair under a British brand. These joined-up broadcasts not only unite our viewers around the world with an essential appointment to view, but crucially, I believe they set us apart from our competitors; and add value to the partnership we have with our affiliate partners. I believe ours is the only network in the world which can deliver so many massive global moments to an international audience. This year we want to go bigger and bolder and Planet Earth Live and London Calling are certainly very successful so far.