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Interesting times need interesting solutions

NP-head-shotWe live in interesting times, writes Nick Percy, EVP Northern Europe, BBC Worldwide. In our world of pay TV, this means navigating change including a shift in viewing from linear to on-demand and the challenge – and opportunities – presented by over-the-top.

But while there’s a lot of change, a few recognisable truths remain: audiences still want a variety of programming (there aren’t many of us satisfied with a single genre of programming, or a single channel, or a single OTT service), and linear viewing remains strong – while there is a shift to on-demand, there is no linear viewing cliff-edge in sight.

So this leaves us, as pay TV platforms and programmers, to find a route through: to find a compelling offer for audiences who have been given glimpses of what’s possible, while ensuring the economics work for subscribers, for operators and for programmers. No one has the solution yet, and this remains a time of experimentation. But I think there are a handful of waypoints to help find our way.

"I believe programmers’ brands have a central role to play. Without a trusted guide, a morass of choice is confusing and frustrating."

  • Firstly, given the variety audiences demand, bundles of programming – whether linear, on-demand, or both – still have value: value for audiences, operators and programmers.
  • Secondly, more choice is inevitable. Indeed, more choice is already here. This is frequently painful for operators and programmers, but given it’s inevitable, it has to be embraced. Different companies are trying different things, but the challenge is to find ways to offer a compelling choice of bundles, addressing demand for both linear and on-demand programming.
  • Thirdly, I believe programmers’ brands have a central role to play. Without a trusted guide, a morass of choice is confusing and frustrating. Programmers’ brands have always been trusted guides: signposts to help audiences discover content they love. This holds just as strongly, if not more strongly, in on-demand as in linear. Audiences do not pick up the remote (or the tablet) always knowing which show they want to watch. And in terms of discovery, flat lists of titles just don’t cut it.
  • Fourthly, and related to the role for programmers’ brands, finding new and unexpected programmes remain an integral part of entertainment for many viewers. While algorithms and social media do a job here, and with continued investment will do a better and better job, I believe in the value human schedulers can bring. Someone who knows the programmes, and knows the viewers, can deliver fortuitous discovery in a way algorithms cannot.

These waypoints have informed the path we at BBC Worldwide have chosen to take. We believe in the role and strength of linear channels. We have relaunched our channel portfolio, led by BBC First, BBC Brit and BBC Earth, and have invested behind these channels to deliver a compelling experience for viewers befitting the BBC brand and the content pipeline we can bring to bear.

And, in September, in conjunction with StarHub in Singapore, we launched BBC Player in its first market. BBC Player is a curated on-demand service that in part complements, and in part revolutionises, the experience we have so far delivered through our BBC branded services. BBC Player takes the breadth of our powerful content pipeline and combines it with expert human scheduling and a product built on the BBC Group’s more than 10 years of on-demand experience.

Working with our partners, our new linear brands and BBC Player are BBC Worldwide’s response to the changes, challenges and opportunities in pay TV. No one knows what the final destination looks like. But we think this is a promising path to take. And in interesting times, striking out on a promising path is a very good way to start.

I, and my BBC Worldwide colleagues, are keen to hear the views and priorities of our partners at Cable Congress. I am looking forward to it.

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