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BBC Worldwide confirms international channel changes

topgear2The 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 a 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 (US$324.2 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, as both run premium programming. 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 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 (pictured) 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.

“Significantly higher content investment will underpin BBC Worldwide’s third party sales, as well as our own BBC branded services,” said Davie. “As part of our ambition to take high quality BBC and British content to the widest possible audience, we also intend to expand and upgrade our successful flagship annual global sales event. BBC Showcase 2014 will be bigger and better than ever, with record buyer numbers.”

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

These latest moves represent his push to better monetise the BBC’s premium content around the global, and in part is responsible for the proposed scrapping of the global iPlayer experiment.

“BBC Worldwide has a good track record of taking British content to the world, benefiting international audiences, licence fee payers and the wider industry alike. But the time has come for a step-change, reflecting the rapid development in our markets. In particular, we will invest more into the unique content that powers everything we do, and realise the full potential of the BBC brand with audiences around the world.”

He and Paul Dempsey, who was was interim CEO whole Davie ran the main BBC after it suddenly parted ways with George Entwistle, have spearheaded a wholesale restructure of BBCWW with power devolved to individual regions.

Dempsey told TBI this was a process of achieving “balanced regionalisation” and added: “That process is now done. When I was interim chief exec I spoke about rebooting the company – and that wasn’t about a headcount saving or designed to save money, although it did at the end of the day.”