Rupert Gavin, BBC Worldwide's chief executive, a trip to
India seems linked to announcing a new programming initiative
with Star India.
year he was in Mumbai in the middle of October to announce
a licencing agreement with Star for the popular British
television serials Yes Minister and Yes Prime
Minister for broadcast in Hindi as Ji Mantriji and
Ji Pradhanmantriji respectively. Ji Mantriji
is currently running on Star but Ji Pradhanmantriji
seems to have gone into permanent cold storage.
This time round (25 October to be exact) it was to announce
The Weakest Link, the biggest programming hit to
come out of the BBC Worldwide stables in the last decade.
The largest non-US, English language television programme
producer and exporter in the world (2000-01 programme sales
increased from £138m to £150m), BBC Worldwide is still in
the build phase as far as India is concerned, Gavin says.
It is building the brand, building its presence so that
it will be in a position to make investments. Once that
happens, maybe India will contribute more than the 2 per
cent it currently does to BBC Worldwide's sales.
In an interview with indiantelevision.com's Thomas Abraham,
Gavin outlined BBC Worldwide's plans in the changed scenario
Post September 11, has there has been any particular
change in strategy, how has the business model changed?
Since then, a lot has changed. Obviously our news programming,
our news channels, have gained a lot. The world market has
opened for documentaries. See, we probably have some of
the best documentaries on Bin Laden, Al Qaida (the chief
suspects in the attacks on the World Trade Centre). Nobody
wanted them eight weeks ago. Now suddenly people who were
not aware of these guys' movements are showing interest
in buying these documentaries.
We are also aware of a shift in demand to a slightly
more serious, more factual programming ethos. I think people's
attitude to life, certainly in the West, has changed.
Is there a transformation in people's demands, are they
more interested in trying to figure out what is happening
Big transformation. We have a lot of demand because
a lot of the American papers have been writing that America's
television news has become exclusively domestic. And certainly
people are turning to the BBC as being a source of global
perspective on world events. They are sad events no doubt
but they have had a very significant and positive impact
Obviously, the advertising market has been
precarious. But the advertising market has been precarious
all the way round the world. And that has an effect on us.
But we will have to see how that shapes through.
are interested in bringing in more BBC channels, or
channels in partnership with other people'
As a long term effect?
Whether it is a long term downturn or whether it is just
What do you propose in India? Last year,
there were a lot of things happening. There was also talk
that you were in discussions with the Indian government
regarding investment plans in broadcasting. What came of
We are still in discussions. It has been very a turbulent
market and some of the changes that were going to take place
did not. DTH, things like that, due to tight government
restrictions. We are interested in the investment market
in India. But things will have to move a little faster.
What projects are you looking at other than these?
We are interested in bringing in more BBC channels, or channels
in partnership with other people. We are also interested
in the radio market.
We are also expanding our publishing operations. At the
moment, our publishing is gaining partnership with Penguin
and the Noddies with Egmont.
From our perspective, and the traditional way that we work,
is to expand by way of working with existing players on
a licensed basis.
When we build on a sufficient scale in the market, we will
start investing as well in infrastructure.
That is the programme of activity - we are in the build
phase, which is why we are doing things with Star. Which
is where Teletubbies and Noddy come in, as
well as Ji Mantriji, the books with Penguin. We are
actually building the brand, building our presence and that
will help us to be in a position to make investments.
Any concrete investment plans?
Bring in channel operations. We are also looking at the
possibilities of Radio, and publishing, maybe even magazines.
These will be BBC publications printed in India for sale
As far as radio is concerned, do you have that kind
of cachet in India? I think radio as a medium seems to have
We are primarily on short wave, with a certain amount of
FM redistribution. But that's all. We have got to get to
a stage where it is accepted that BBC news can be broadcast
on domestic channels.
Basically FM? Is that what you are looking at?
have got to get to a stage where it is accepted that
BBC news can be broadcast on domestic channels'
But you say you have a small band on FM. Could you elaborate
I think we must be having. It's not my particular area
but we do have a range of partnerships for FM redistribution
around the world. Or, a lot of people are listening to us
on the Internet. But obviously for India, the bulk of our
dependence is on short wave.
Talking about your short wave listenership, have you tracked
that in any way? Has it gone down?
It has remained pretty steady, actually. It's surprising
that. It's not increasing but it's stable.
It's around 30 million. It's very substantial considering
that our total weekly listenership to the (BBC) World Service
around the world is around 153 million.
What do you think about broadband, the Internet? Even
in the West, it has not taken off, leave aside India.
We are the biggest Internet content provider outside America.
We just keep pumping out internet content. We use more video
content than any other internet provider in the world. And
that's part of the service we provide.
As people's connections get faster and faster, their appreciation
of our service also gets better. But we've always been ahead
of the curve. That's why we have all of our radio channels
on the Internet. That's why we have all of our news bulletins,
a lot of our video archives on the Internet. We have more
video and audio on the Internet than any other media company
in the world.
What about the revenue model? That's the question any
Net-based venture confronts today.
The majority of is publicly funded. That is our unique difference.
We are able to do that because of public funding.
What about BBC's current investments in India, is it
Increasing. I can't give you any figures though.
What about worldwide sales figures; what is coming out
of Asia and how much is the contribution of India in percentages?
It's modest. Of our total worldwide sales it's about two
Asia is more substantial. Asia is about 15 per cent, but
that includes Australia, which is a very big market for
us. Bear in mind that 50 per cent of our sales are in the
Still? But wasn't that the sales break-up average in
1999? You were thinking it would go up weren't you?
But it hasn't really gone up.
No it has. The international is now above. So we have moved
from international (sales) being about 45 per cent to about
55 per cent. That's been the change over three years.