WORLD: MEDIUM OF THE WEEK - The lure of BBC America extends beyond expats

BBC America has benefited from the shifting of budgets into cable, Lucy Aitken says.

The Golden Globes usually award American classics such as Sex and the City and Seinfeld. So when The Office won best TV series and Ricky Gervais was named best actor, the show's producer was convinced that an administrative cock-up was to blame.

The Globes have generated fantastic publicity for BBC America, the digital channel that broadcasts The Office. It goes out on Thursdays at 10pm and Fridays at 9.20pm and is flanked by Blackadder and So Graham Norton.

BBC America specialises in BBC classics (Parkinson, Absolutely Fabulous), alongside the not-so-classics (My Hero, The Thin Blue Line). Dramas include Red Cap and Monarch of the Glen, as well as a few Channel 4 shows (Father Ted, Faking It).

Home improvement shows are huge: Charlie Dimmock's charms grace US TV screens in Ground Force and stalwarts of UK schedules such as Changing Rooms and What Not To Wear abound. BBC World news bulletins punctuate the schedules four times every weekday and daily on weekends.

Paul Lee, the chief executive of BBC America, explains the channel's appeal: "Americans are tired of 'cookie cutter' TV. The heroes of American TV aren't the likes of Dynasty's Blake Carrington anymore. They're flawed heroes such as Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Soprano and David Brent."

BBC America is a joint venture between Discovery and the BBC, with Discovery handling distribution and advertising. Lee says: "Discovery has fantastic sales people and arranges good packages, so Procter & Gamble will buy the Discovery Channel, TLC Animal Planet and BBC America."

According to Lee, Discovery has blazed the trail in raising advertiser awareness about the efficiency of cable, as opposed to networked, TV in the US. "This past season, there were no hits on network TV, so a lot of money has moved across to cable."

Robin Kent, the chairman and chief executive of Universal McCann in New York, says the Discovery link-up is hugely beneficial for BBC America: "Because Discovery is such a highly rated network, it can command good prices. Our buyers will consider it if it lowers the price of the Discovery cost per thousand."

As an Englishman in New York, Kent has "mixed views" about BBC America: "American shows transfer to the UK quite well, but English shows do not translate in the US. You get the odd exception such as The Office, but BBC America's audience is predominantly aged 55-plus as they like the dramas."

However, Kent has one huge problem with the channel: "They took off EastEnders and my wife joined the 10,000 strong internet protest group."

The channel axed EastEnders last year when 70 per cent of its audience tuned out. Despite the protest, Lee says: "Expats are our greatest friends and our harshest critics. In the first year of the channel, a lot of expats were evangelists for the channel. In the second year we attracted anglophiles. Now we've moved beyond that to see if we can make this channel more accessible."


Launched: 1998

Distribution: Available in 37 million US homes, 35 per cent of all US TV


Top shows: The Office, Blackadder, So Graham Norton, Ground Force

Advertising: Handled by Discovery Networks, along with distribution

Typical advertisers: Guinness, Procter & Gamble, Volkswagen

Rivals: Comedy Channel, FX, Comedy Central


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