BBC Worldwide and BBC Studios Merge: How Will It Affect Doctor Who?

The BBC has announced it’s to merge production arm, BBC Studios with commercial operation, BBC Worldwide to form a single commercial organisation, to be called BBC Studios.

Newly approved by the BBC Board, the move comes as the corporation seeks a way forward in an ever-more competitive market where, as Director General Tony Hall recently warned, the rise of the likes of Netflix and Amazon could result in a £500 million a year drop in the amount available to spend on British television over the next ten years.

The merger will mean integration of programme production, sales, and distribution in a single entity, with the news release arguing that the intellectual property value of BBC programming will be maximised for the benefit of UK licence payers.

Tony Hall says:

“In a fast-changing TV industry, securing the future success of the BBC is vital. Creating a single BBC Studios will bring the BBC in line with the industry, be simpler and more efficient. It will help ensure that licence fee payers in the UK continue to receive outstanding British programmes which reflect British lives, long into the future.

“It will also ensure the BBC can continue to play its crucial role in supporting the successful UK creative economy.”

Reshaping the BBC to make it better able to cope in the digital era is plainly high on Hall’s agenda, with this announcement following his earlier appearance before MPs where he revealed that plans for a new paid-for streaming service are in development. Following the closure of the short-lived download-to-keep service BBC Store, the prospective new service enabling access to archive programmes is likely to be linked to the popular BBC iPlayer.

It’s too early to make an informed prediction as to what the merger will mean for Doctor Who. BBC Worldwide has undoubtedly done a very effective job in marketing the programme all over the world in recent years with an astonishing 239 countries now purchasing the show. It seems likely that efforts to further exploit the commercial potential of hit shows will only increase as a result of the move, something that worries Ben Dowell of Radio Times who argues in an opinion piece that commercial considerations mustn’t be allowed to interfere with the distinctive ‘Britishness’ that makes the BBC’s programmes so popular in the first place.

One thing that is striking in the news from the BBC is that Strictly Come Dancing has now been internationally licensed 54 times as Dancing With The Stars. It’s surely a thought that strikes terror into the heart of most Doctor Who fans, but is it possible that one day the corporation will give the go-ahead for international versions of the show?

Maybe not, but the notion is indicative of the kind of hard-nosed commercial thinking which we’re going to see a lot more of in the coming years. Let us know what you think below!

  • ColeBox

    “… arguing that the intellectual property value of BBC programming will be maximised for the benefit of UK licence payers …”

    The first thing that springs to mind is that the BBC has hived out the vast majority of its drama productions to independent production companies, many of which are being gobbled up by American multi-nationals (e.g. Endermol). The likes of Doctor Who, Eastenders, Holby City, Casualty and Silent Witness (all that I can think of) are the only dramas that still carry the (c) BBC at the end. Call The Midwife, for example, is made by Neal Street Productions. The end credit shows “for BBC” and (c) Neal Street Productions NOT (c) BBC. Ergo, the BBC does not actually own the copyright to one if its biggest programmes!

    This appears to indicate that the intellectual property of many BBC programmes *may* not belong to the BBC anyway. A classic example (although non drama) is what happened with The Great British Bake Off; the makers, Love Productions got greedy with their asking price, the BBC wouldn’t pay it, so it was snapped up by Channel 4. During that fall-out, Moffat was reported to have said in a speech that other channels had tried to poach Sherlock away from the BBC.

    I have no doubt that a programme, that the BBC has paid another production company to make, will still have some rights to its marketing and takings, but if Moffat has the *ability* to take Sherlock elsewhere and Love Productions can start demanding eye-watering increases for their “fee” then the only way that the BBC can maximise the benefit for UK licence payers is to bring all the production back to BBC Studios (along with Doctor Who, Silent Witness etc) and actually keep their own programmes theirs.

    • Planet of the Deaf

      I think TV production is becoming a specialist activity, with companies have their own niche. Thus you have a company like Mammoth who produce Victoria for ITV and Poldark for the BBC, while Hattrick will produce comedy and panel shows for various broadcasters.

      Most dramas have a limited shelf-life, which limits the ability for production companies to do a “Bake off”, realistically how many series of Peaky Blinders or Poldark can you produce?

      • ColeBox

        Maybe so, but the BBC should still have ownership of “their” intellectual property if they want to be able to exploit it which, at the moment, it can only do in a limited capacity. There is an interesting situation where some BBC programmes are made by ITV Studios; Poldark is listed on the ITV Studios website and so is Graham Norton. Does this mean that repeats of Aiden Turner’s Poldark could end up on ITV3 instead of the BBC? Of course, ITV3 might like to show the 1970’s Poldark, like they showed The Two Ronnies years ago, but they would have to buy the rights to do so from the BBC. It doesn’t seem that way with the latest version.

        The shelf-life argument is interesting, however something like Silent Witness has been going for over twenty-years, with solid viewing figures. If this were an external production company’s programme, then what would stop Channel 4 from poaching that too? As I said above, Moffat indicated that an attempt was made to poach Sherlock. Moff also said he stayed with the BBC out of loyalty and he didn’t want to be greedy, which indicated more cash was put on the table (but by whom, we don’t know). But even if a series like Peaky Blinders or Call the Midwife do have a limited shelf life (although by the look of things, Midwife could go on for as long as Heartbeat did), being an in-house production guarantees intellectual property AND control.

        It also raises an interesting question about the future of broadcasting competition. We’ve seen a few instances where one broadcaster out-bids another for the rights to show US imports: Sky hoarding all the HBO stuff and taking Mad Men from BBC Four and Prison Break from 5 (removing them from free-to-air), Channel 4 out-bidding the BBC for The Simpsons and Channel 4, seeing the success of BBC Four’s Nordic Noir, starts ‘getting in first’ for their Walter Presents presentations. In short, why should a channel have to worry about finding their own new programming when they can just poach others’ successes?

        Intellectual property and programme ownership are the issues here – if that is what the BBC want – whether the drama be a long running series, a mini-series or a TV movie. It needs to be remembered, however, that the BBC didn’t out-source by choice. It was imposed on them during, I believe, the early 90s. Absurdly, BBC Studios lose the right to make their own programmes: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/10/bbc-loses-songs-praise-independent-production-company/ It may be Songs of Praise this time, but what if Doctor Who was pulled from Auntie Beeb’s grip too?

        • Planet of the Deaf

          The programmes that the BBC used to produce in house but have now outsourced have so far or been magazine/current affairs type programmes, rather than dramas. Question Time, This Week etc and for the viewer the change has been seamless

          Going back, IF RTD hadn’t brought back Doctor Who in 2005, maybe a private company might have taken the initiative instead, under license or in collaboration with the BBC. After all Big Finish are a private company, ditto Panini who produce the magazine, the company producing the comics etc and all are decent products, and true to the show’s ethos.

          ITV Studios bought the company that produces the Graham Norton show, so produce it for the BBC. As they are closing their South Bank studios, in future it (and the rival Jonathan Ross show) will both be recorded at…the reopened BBC TV Centre studios! It’s a very interlinked world, modern TV 🙂

          One thought about Doctor Who, is that its massively important for the Cardiff/Welsh creative sector. I can imagine the Welsh Assembly acting if the programme was under threat or about to be moved elsewhere.

          • ColeBox

            Drama has been one area that the BBC seemed to have handed lock, stock and barrel to out-sourcing and appeared to have done so for a while: going back a decade, programmes like Spooks and Life On Mars were made by Kudos (now under Endermol), for example.

            It’s quite a novelty to see an in-house drama production these days. The last one, not from my previous list, that I can recall was Apple Tree Yard, IIRC.

            Mind you, back in the 70’s, the BBC were often doing deals for their more expensive productions with a US arts channel WGBS Boston (from memory) as a joint venture.

            A private company bringing back Doctor Who… The difficulty would have been getting the BBC to shell out at a time they didn’t want it. Big Finish, Marvel/Panini was a sale straight to customer and the BBC just raked in their share of the proceeds (see also the DVDS and the Virgin/BBC novels). Having said that, a few Eighth Doctor stories did get broadcast on BBC 7, but I think that was *after* the show was back on telly.

            I did see yesterday that ITV were moving into the old BBC TV Centre. Interlinked, almost incestuous! XD

            RE: the Welsh Assembly. Hadn’t really considered that, but they were quite happy to let Cardiff close The Doctor Who Experience.

          • Planet of the Deaf

            Does the BBC have in house teams for creating new drama now, or is that not how things work these days?

            Indeed do the writers/showrunners want to work for the BBC when they can have their own companies, giving them potentially more control and profit, especially if they sell out? Moff for example does Sherlock through the “family” company Hartswood, and I assume that any future drama productions from him (and Mark Gattis) will go through this company

            Roath Lock is quite unique in the BBC now, a specialist drama producing facility, busy mainly on DW and Casualty. Class was an in house production…

            The DWE is a relatively minor employer when compared to the main show, and may come back in another form. Even 95% (or whatever) of location filming for the revived show is done in Wales!

          • ColeBox

            On the last in-house BBC programme I saw – Casualty, I think it was – BBC Studios appears to be the logo used at the end of the programme. That ties in with the article on the direction things appear to be going.

  • Planet of the Deaf

    Not sure I get the relevance of Strictly being licensed to 54 countries to Doctor Who, as the licensing of an entertainment format (Strictly, Big Brother, or going back a few yearsThe Generation Game or Who wants to be a Millionaire) is a completely different to selling a drama series abroad.

    If Japan or Italy wanted to produce their own version of Doctor Who, it probably wouldn’t be a problem anyway. After all there nearly was an American version of Red Dwarf

    • Christian Cawley

      I suspect this is all a part of getting the BBC’s most popular shows packaged for licensing deals around the world, on other networks and on the streaming services. Netflix and Amazon are far more equipped to deal with the budgetary requirements of DW, for instance.

      As for licensing, I feel that while multiple English language versions of DW could turn out to be a problem, Italian, Russian, Japanese versions, would not..

  • FrancoPabloDiablo

    Seeing as Doctor Who finishes this Christmas this isn’t really going to affect it. It may have an impact on the new PC, liberal, SJW, feminazi parody show with the same name but that is for those who watch it to worry about.

    • Jack Ashcraft

      I was just thinking, there’s nothing left they can do to destroy it. It’s toast.

      Oh, did you hear about Moffat’s comments on Gallifrey Base recently? According to him, the Doctor wants to be a woman because he was originally a woman.

      • FrancoPabloDiablo

        Moff is sounding more and more unhinged with every new thing that comes out his mouth these days. He was also spouting vicious bile at fans and people who voted for Brexit in the Radio Times.

        • reverend61

          I don’t think ‘vicious bile’ is particularly representative of his comments. More that he was conscious of the fact that people with conservative viewpoints also watch the show, and that he was concerned with their reaction to a female Doctor. He felt it was the wrong time for that sort of casting change, and it probably was.

          • FrancoPabloDiablo

            I also don’t think Moff’s recent comments are particularly representative of fandom and people who voted brexit. He first denied there was any backlash, then told the media and fans who weren’t super hyped about the casting to shut the hell up and now he’s saying anyone who is against the casting must be a brexit voter because all brexit voters are regressive and can’t handle a female Doctor – as if that is the reason so many of us are against it. And I’ve not made one reference to his comments about past regenerations and choices, simply the current one so I don’t understand why you refer to them?

          • Jack Ashcraft

            The show ended for me last season. As for me, DW is dead.