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The British are coming – and not before time.

hugh-williamsDSC03778The way we sell British content abroad is changing – for the better, says Hugh Williams

Thanks to a vibrant production culture, fuelled in part by the government’s tax breaks for those wishing to invest in media opportunities, British television is beginning to enjoy the exciting global position it has often craved but never really achieved.

This month, PACT reported that the UK’s television exports for the years 2013/14 had increased by 5% on the previous year. Their total value was £1.3 billion. John McVay, PACT’s CEO, commented that these results demonstrated that ‘UK television productions remain the most highly regarded and sought after globally.’

This burst of productive energy has been complemented by changes in technology. The growth of interactive and on-demand services has helped to break down national barriers. Audiences everywhere are becoming more discriminating, browsing and sampling programmes that they did not know about before.

A few years ago it would have been unthinkable to find audiences in the UK watching on a regular basis programmes from Scandinavia, France or Belgium. That has now changed – and British production companies have been one of the main beneficiaries of these new habits. Just as European programmes are finding new markets in Britain, so are British ones able to discover them abroad.

This international growth in British talent and British programmes is overdue. Britain is a comparatively late entrant into the international media market. The worldwide influence of television is for the most part an American phenomenon. The British may have invented the technology but it was the Americans who exploited it most successfully.

This international growth in British talent and British programmes is overdue… Britain’s public service tradition held it back from competing with ruthless American commercialism. Now, however, things are beginning to change.

Britain’s public service tradition held it back from competing with ruthless American commercialism. Now, however, things are beginning to change. A new breed of entrepreneurs is beginning to plant the flag for Britain, and British culture, around the world. They’ll never overtake America – but they may at least begin to share the spoils it has enjoyed for so long.

Cirkus is part of this new growth. As an on-demand channel that aggregates programmes from Britain’s best producers such as ITV, Endemol, All3Media and Content Media it has moved quickly to find new markets for their high quality programmes.

We have found that the concept of ‘Best of British’ finds an attentive audience, particularly in Northern Europe, but is also attractive to many other parts of the world. In Scandinavia, for instance, our research shows that British programmes, and in particular British scripted drama, are generally more popular than their American counterparts.

Furthermore, the idea of ‘Best of British’ is no longer the prerogative of the BBC – however much the organisation itself is still revered. International broadcasters recognise that it is the explosive growth of commercial activity that is driving the expansion of British content. This creates a tremendous opportunity for British independent commercial producers.

The growth of interactive and on-demand services has helped to break down national barriers. Audiences everywhere are becoming more discriminating, browsing and sampling programmes that they did not know about before.

By allowing their programmes to be brought together under one brand – as they have with Cirkus – they can reinforce one another’s strengths and rapidly infiltrate the burgeoning new platforms and devices that technological change is creating. Television is no longer owned by traditional broadcasters. It belongs just as much to telcos, utility companies, IPTV start-ups and cable companies.

All of these need content – but we need to be imaginative if we are to take advantage of this, using Britain’s growing reputation as a producer of suitable programmes to find new ways of giving them what they want.

The main market may well continue to roll along on traditional lines for a while yet with broadcasters selling programmes to broadcasters as they have always done. But beneath and alongside this, new markets are emerging. We are at the frontier of a new world in television. We will only harvest its bounty if we move with speed.

Hugh Williams is a Co-Founder of ‘Cirkus’, an on-demand channel offering ‘Best of British’ programmes to international broadcasters. It has launched in Scandinavia and is now looking to enter the Benelux market.