"I dont believe that the print medium & particularly magazines will suffer from the growth of TV or the Internet" : MD Peter Phippens -BBC Magazines

With the government relaxing the FDI norms for leisure and general interest print publications, among the international publishers to take advantage of this is BBC Worldwide through its subsidiary BBC Magazines.

The Times Group and BBC Magazines have announced the signing of a formal agreement to set up a 50:50 joint venture company to publish magazines in India. One of the aims is to cater to the upper middle class that is getting increasingly interested in niche products.'s Ashwin Pinto caught up with BBC Magazines MD Peter Phippens recently to get his take on the potential of the business.

Phippens was appointed MD in July 2001. Previously he was the president and CEO of BBC Worldwide Americas, a position he took up in August 1998. He began his career in 1982 as a graduate trainee at IPC. In 1987 he joined BBC Magazines as marketing director where he marketed existing magazines and oversaw the launch of new titles.

During the conversation, Phippens dwelt on the services of BBC Magazines, the synergies it is looking at through the joint venture, as well as the role and relevance of magazines in today’s converging world.

Could you provide an overview of BBC Magazines and the services it offers? 

BBC Magazines is the third largest magazine company in the UK. We now publish about 50 titles altogether. Radio Times is the largest and is in fact the biggest magazine in the UK. It is a magazine that covers happenings on television. We also have leading magazines in motoring including Top Gear. The television show on BBC World has done very well in India. Therefore there may be an opportunity for the magazine in India.

Then there is the Good Food Magazine, which is the largest food title in the UK. We have big titles in the women’s segment including Eve. It is the fastest growing women’s monthly in the UK. We are also the largest publisher of children’s magazines and are doing well in the teen sector too. Some of these may be relevant to India as well.

Could you talk about the common synergies that you are looking to explore with Bennett Coleman? 

Bennett Coleman is a substantial media company in India with interests in a lot of media. Although our joint venture does not cover anything other than magazines and events, nonetheless we feel that there are opportunities to form links between the magazine business and other parts of Bennett Coleman. An award show is an example as also the channel that The Times Group is planning to launch shortly.

"We are not being presumptuous in assuming that what works in the UK will also fit in India. Our main interest is not to introduce magazines from the UK"

How does a conservative institution like the BBC view Bombay Times, which devotes a great deal of attention to the Page Three phenomenon?

I don’t really want to comment on Times Of India’s newspapers. However, from what I have seen of them, they are enormously successful publications.

Do you see scope for content improvement and more professionalism in Bombay TimesFemina andFilmfare?

It is already a very professional business. Filmfare and Femina are already market leaders. Our aim is to ensure that their market share continues to grow. Having said that, there is always room for improvement in any magazine, including ours. However, we are not starting with the intention that there have to be significant changes in Femina and Filmfare.

On the contrary, our interest in the joint venture is that the existing magazines are already very strong and we don’t want to do anything to change that.

Which publications are you planning to introduce in India and will the content be tailored in any manner to suit local tastes?

I can’t be specific yet about magazines that we will launch. We are going to do a lot of research to find out more about market requirements. Within a few months we will be ready to announce one or two intentions. We are not being presumptuous in assuming that what works in the UK will also fit in India. Our main interest is not to introduce magazines from the UK.

For magazines to be successful, they have to be developed fittingly to the marketplace by people who possess a thorough understanding of that particular market. We may borrow ideas from our magazines in the UK or introduce a small amount of content. Essentially though we will be developing magazines in India from scratch.

Will you be making editorial appointments in India?

Any appointment for a new product from our joint venture will be from India. We have no intention of bringing people in from the UK. The executive management of the business will run the product on behalf of both the partners. At this time, I frankly have no idea as to the number of magazines that we will launch.

"We have big titles in the women’s sector including Eve. It is the fastest growing women’s monthly in the UK. We are also the largest publisher of children’s magazines"

Would you also be looking at forming tie-ups with regional language publications?

Quite possibly. We will not necessarily publish only in English. We don’t have any specific plans yet in this regard but it is certainly a possibility as we go along.

I would appreciate your impressions on the print media scene in India given the growth of television. 

I am happy with the growth of the print medium. I don’t believe that the print medium and particularly magazines will suffer from the growth of television or the Internet. If you look at the US, which is the most competitive media market in the world, there are powerful television stations, thriving newspapers and booming internet businesses.

Despite all of that, the magazine sector remains very important in America. That is because the magazine medium does something that the other media do less successfully. Magazines speak personally to people. In my opinion, they reflect people’s aspirations and their passions better than any other medium. New media create a reappraisal of the pre-existing media but they do not normally undermine it.

Even in the electronic media if you go back to the invention of television, people initially felt that the radio would become obsolete. Of course radio has thrived over the decades. There are things that you can do on radio like letting your imagination run wild in a way that is not possible on television. The same logic applies to magazines.

How is the BBC’s entry going to change things in the print medium?

In itself I don’t think that it will change the way the industry functions. The joint venture is a reflection of something that is already happening. This is the message change that is going on in society and in the Indian economy. Our interest is the fact that we perceive an opportunity that is already there.

However it may be that our two business concerns working together will help the Indian magazine sector develop more quickly than it would have done anyway

How has BBC magazines grown the business in the past couple of years? 

BBC Magazines is doing really well. Last year we launched several titles. This is despite the fact that the market is mature and competitive. Of course all of BBC Worldwide’s profits go back to the BBC for further creation of content. In 2002 - 2003, BBC Worldwide returned ?123 million to the BBC. So the state of affairs is very healthy.

We have managed year on year increases for titles ranging from Radio Times to Girl Talk and Eve to Top Of The Pops. We also partly grow through acquisitions. A couple of months ago in the UK we acquired Origin Publishing. It publishes 12 quality specialist consumer magazines such as Focus and Living History. This provides us with a platform from which we can plan future launches in specialist markets.

What value additions does Top Gear provide for fans of the television show? 

Top Gear is a magazine in its own right. It is, I believe, the most exciting, inspiring and informative motoring magazine in the UK. However it also reflects many of the personalities and the tone of the BBC World show. We have editions of it in the Arab World and Indonesia.

Last year we gave it a new more contemporary page format and a completely redesigned data section.

What is the USP that BBC Magazines offers the reader vis-?-vis the competition?

Very simple! We always try to publish the best magazine in any market we choose to enter. That sounds like a platitude, but it is easily forgotten. We focus first on the editorial quality of the magazine. Everything else is secondary to it.


"Magazines speak personally to people. They reflect people’s aspirations and their passions better than any other medium in my opinion"

In the near future are you also looking adding the young male genre to add to your stable?

No. That market is well served by others. We are always looking for new opportunities however. I wouldn’t want to give our competitors any clues at all as to what they are.

With the advent of the Internet what are the major changes that have happened in your publishing business?

I don’t think that the Internet has had a major impact on the magazine medium. Over time, I think that you will see many magazines linking with websites. This is fine as long as what they are not trying to do is simply publishing a magazine on the web. That in itself will not be successful. However if you use the strengths of the internet which are different along with magazine strengths, they can be very powerful allies.

Both media are very good at creating communities. Magazines by the nature are about sharing ideas and information among a community of readers who have been brought together by a single passion be it golf, food or cars. The internet can also do the same.

Why won’t online editions of magazines work?

The Internet is not good for extensive reading and I don’t think that people are going to sit up in bed and relax with a laptop on their knees like they do with magazines. The Internet does not provide that intimate relaxation moment. The Internet though is very good when you want to access information quickly.

A few years ago when the Internet was in its infancy, there was a tendency for people to try and do on the Internet what they were already doing in print. Some people were simply reproducing a carbon copy of their magazine on the Internet. That is not going to drive new revenues. Of course there are interpretations of what an Internet magazine might be.

With convergence coming in do you see growing synergies between different forms of media?

There are opportunities to link brands across different media. A lot of our products are offshoots of television programmes. There is the opportunity for the same community of people to converge around a basic idea but provided by a different medium.

Television is fantastic for entertainment and mass communication. It is great for mobilising people. But it fails in the area of speaking personally to people, which as I pointed out earlier is something that magazines are very good at. Magazines are also particularly strong at creating a bond of trust with the reader.

Besides India, which are the other countries being looked at to grow the business?

There are none at the moment. India is our priority. Both the US and Australia are mature and highly competitive. There may be a few opportunities for us there but it is not something that we are actively pursuing at the moment.

Do you do a lot of marketing and promotional activities to create awareness about your products? 

Yes, like any other publisher. We have strong marketing teams and healthy budgets for all our products. What we have found over the years is that, marketing is a relatively easy thing to do once you have a high quality product.

Was the ad revenue hit last year on account of the depressed economic climate? 

The ad markets in the UK and US have been tough for the past couple of years. It has been flat. We are just beginning to see some signs of market improvement. It is good to hear people like Sir Martin Sorell talking about the market developing.

There are very early signs of that. I don't think the growth next year will be registering a rapid increase. I think, it will be more in the nature of a gradual upturn rather than a sudden explosion.

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