BBC Worldwide has officially launched three new channels in Africa, BBC Brit, BBC Earth and BBC First. They will be hosted on MultiChoice’s DStv platform, making it the first pay-TV platform, and South Africa the first country, in the world to launch all three of the British broadcaster’s new offerings. Michael Bratt spoke to Joel Churcher, vice president and general manager for Africa at BBC Worldwide, to find out more about the new channels and the British broadcaster’s African strategy.
BBC Brit and BBC Earth will be available from 1 September followed by BBC First on 18 October. Regarding BBC’s existing channels in South Africa, BBC Entertainment and BBC Knowledge will be replaced with BBC Brit and BBC Earth, which will have an increased investment into new content, while BBC First will launch as a new separate channel. Churcher explained the need for rebranding Entertainment and Knowledge saying, “What we wanted to do was create global, consumer facing brands, which don’t necessarily have to play in the pay-TV sphere… We looked at our major skills; natural history, factual entertainment and premium drama and we wanted to create a global brand that could encapsulate those strengths.”
The news channels will join the BBC stable which already contains BBC Lifestyle, CBeebies and BBC World News.
Churcher explained why South Africa was chosen to launch all three channels. “South Africa is a very important market for us. There’s a real core BBC following here. South Africa has always benefited from having a full portfolio of BBC channels, that’s not true in other parts of the world… so it was a case of certainly we wanted to expand our portfolio and make sure the South African audience has access to the new global brands.”
In a statement BBC described the new channels. “BBC Brit offers premium factual entertainment that is intelligent but irreverent. Male-skewing but with broader appeal, it blends expertise with entertainment and fact with fun.” Churcher says this channel was born out of simply looking at a gap in the market, “We looked at the factual entertainment space and we are very good at creating factual entertainment shows and we wanted to create a channel that celebrated wit and humour.” This channel will be the exclusive home of Top Gear.
“BBC Earth inspires audiences by sharing the incredible wonders of our universe. The channel showcases the work of the world’s foremost factual film makers as it seeks to take audiences on a thrilling journey of discovery.”
“BBC First is the home of premium, original British drama. Showcasing world-renowned, award-winning talent in front of and behind the camera, it delivers audiences the first chance to see stories that challenge, immerse and entertain, all with a unique British perspective.”
When asked how BBC will take its three new offerings into the digital space, Churcher said that the BBC has always been at the front of digital innovation, and the channels will have a strong online presence. However he added that in Africa pay-TV is still the dominant player and growth is still expected over the next five years. “We want to win fans on whatever platform they want to watch the content.”
Churcher identified two key challenges facing the BBC in Africa, piracy and infrastructure. “Piracy is a big problem, not just in Africa but across the world. Creating these consumer facing brands is really an attempt to try and eliminate piracy a bit.”
Churcher also shared his thoughts on the introduction of digital terrestrial television (DTT) in South Africa, believing that it will be an opportunity for BBC to grow its footprint. “We are platform agnostic… we want to grow our fans, who love our content. DTT provides another opportunity to reach homes that maybe don’t have the income for DStv. So it’s a great opportunity for us to deliver premium British content to homes which may have never seen it before,” he said.
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