HEADLINER: ITV veteran pushes the BBC into the multi-channel future - Dick Emery’s digital vision is behind the BBC-Flextech venture, Claire Beale says

You can’t move these days for scenes of ITV patting itself on the back for finally getting to grips with its effluent past - so much so, in fact, that the BBC’s designs on the future of multi-channel television have largely gone unnoticed.

You can’t move these days for scenes of ITV patting itself on the

back for finally getting to grips with its effluent past - so much so,

in fact, that the BBC’s designs on the future of multi-channel

television have largely gone unnoticed.



The debut last weekend of three new channels bearing the BBC stamp of

quality sadly, but predictably, failed to raise the industry’s pulse

rate. Uninspiring, low-key advertising hasn’t helped, but UKTV looks far

from being the embarrassing damp squib of last year’s Granada Sky

Broadcasting effort.



A joint venture between the BBC and Flextech, UKTV is the BBC’s entree

into the multi-channel TV market of the next century and a toe-in-the

water of next year’s digital broadcasting revolution. The first three

channels, UK Arena, UK Horizons and UK Style, will sit alongside the

existing UK Gold offer to slug it out for advertisers’ money in the

commercial TV market. And the ensuing revenues and expertise will be

ploughed back into making BBC 1 and BBC 2 more competitive against ITV

for audiences.



Dick Emery, the chief operating officer of BBC Worldwide, the commercial

arm of the BBC, already knows a thing or two about the competition. A

veteran ITV salesman and the network’s first marketing director, Emery

is well aware of the corporation’s need to tackle the commercial

realities of TV in the 21st century.



’The BBC had largely missed out on multi-channel television in the

analogue world,’ Emery explains. ’We were determined to find a way of

taking part in the multi-channel digital world.’ And the motivation is

purely commercial.



’BBC Worldwide has been charged with increasing its commercial

contribution to the BBC to help with the funding gap which will occur

over the next ten years.’



For Emery, the attractions of the UKTV initiative include the revenue

that can be generated from basic pay services and from exploiting the

BBC catalogue, selling programmes to those services and learning about

how the viewer will react in a TV scenario of virtually unlimited

choice.



Flextech, he says, is an ideal partner because of its international

connections (it’s part of the US cable giant, TCI) and is already

operating channels in the UK such as Bravo, Trouble and Living. ’It is a

good fit. Flextech needed more content to strengthen its business and

with its financial clout and basic distribution expertise knitted

together with our programming expertise, it has worked very well.’



Yet the BBC’s commercial television ventures to date (BBC Prime in

Europe, BBC World and UKTV in Australia) have hardly been jaw-dropping

achievements. ’We haven’t got anything which is a roaring success,’

Emery admits. ’But the real thing about the UK is that we have so much

content made for this market which wasn’t getting a second airing and we

really needed to find an additional outlet for that programming.’



He adds: ’But we have learned outside of the UK that in multi-channel

markets, cable and satellite channels are very different from

terrestrial and I think to start off with, we tended to see it as an

extension of existing business. The danger is that if we don’t do it

somebody else will and it would be very difficult for us to enter it at

a later stage. It’s important that we’re there as soon as we can be and

learn as much as we can as soon as we can.’



And Emery insists that it’s all good news for audiences and

advertisers.



’At the moment, multi-channel television means some not very attractive

basic channels, but you have to buy those in order to get through to the

specialist services which people are then paying significant amounts of

money for,’ he points out. ’So having a UKTV vehicle is a real chance to

have some sensible multi-channel services which can attract sizeable

audiences. That’s going to take time and increased penetration, but

there’s a real opportunity for enhanced commercial impacts as a

result.’



And in this determined spirit of commercialism, the BBC is honing its

strategy of translating brands from one medium to another. ’Our next

phase is very much about brand building. We’re looking to have much

greater marketing input with BBC production right at the start to ensure

that we don’t just create a product but we create a brand, and we’ll

look at extending those brands across as many media as possible on a

global basis.’



For John Hardie, starting his new job as marketing and commercial

director of ITV this week, Mr Emery must provide some sober food for

thought.



The Emery file

1968 Ulster TV, sales assistant

1972 Anglia TV, sales controller

1982 TVS, sales controller

1983 Central TV, sales director

1989 TSMS, founder

1991 ITN, commercial director

1993 ITV, director of market strategy

1994 BBC Worldwide, chief operating officer



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