Moving and shaking at the Beeb

The BBC’s public service and commercial arms are making strides as of late to fine-tune their strategies and sharpen their competitive edges. On the UK homefront, BBC Children’s has received ...
November 25, 2009

The BBC’s public service and commercial arms are making strides as of late to fine-tune their strategies and sharpen their competitive edges. On the UK homefront, BBC Children’s has received a US$41.8-million investment from BBC Trust, which it will channel into homegrown kids content and its online operations over the next three years.

At press time, Joe Godwin, who was less than a week into his new remit as head of BBC Children’s, said the increased funds are a welcome bonus that will soften the blow of the recession’s effect on investment in kids programming in the UK.

‘A lot of UK independent producers have relationships with international co-pro partners, and in a time of recession there’s quite a risk that the projects would not happen because funds would dry up,’ says Godwin. He adds that he’s open to evaluating whether or not the quotas for UK-produced commissions need to be adjusted and possibly increased in the future.

The new funding also includes a plan to beef up BBC Children’s online budget by roughly US$1.6 million to improve related website content, reach and ease of use. The pubcaster is looking to increase its weekly online reach across its sites to 900,000 unique users by this spring with the development of multi-platform strategies for shows such as Horrible Histories, Tracy Beaker and Serious Explorers. The online push will also include adding streamed, downloadable audio content, such as the CBeebies Radio Player that’s linked on every page of the preschool channel’s new site.

Godwin says besides settling into the new BBC offices in Salford Quays, his first major focus will be working on interactive and on-demand offerings. ‘The challenge for me will be assessing the people who work for us and bringing those with what used to be separate online and TV skills into much more cohesive creative teams, thinking about ideas first and platforms second.’

Meanwhile, over at BBC Worldwide Channels, the executive team has launched a major strategic plan that involves adding local flavor to its channel franchises across the globe to better compete in regional markets, opening up more opps for kids producers in areas that include Australia, Latin America and Poland.

‘We knew from the start that to make these channels cut through, we would need some local production,’ says David Weiland, SVP of programming and TV channels at BBCW. The Beeb’s commercial arm has already been hard at work recruiting hosts to tie programming together in the regions where its channels are active, and local commissioning was the next step.

CBeebies Australia has kicked off the program, greenlighting Penelope K, By the Way from Sydney-based Blink Films (in association with production partner Freehand). The company won an open-pitch competition this fall with the victorious 25 x 12-minute live-action series beating out more than 100 submissions. It’s set to debut on CBeebies Australia in spring 2010, rolling out later to the UK and then worldwide.

The title character Penelope K runs the Information Station, which doles out all sorts of tidbits on a wide range of topics from the makeup of kangaroo pouches to ancient pharaohs. However, Ms. K has a faulty short-term memory and continually relies on her friends to help her recall the information.

Weiland couldn’t yet pinpoint which one of the six CBeebies channels was next in line for a local production, but it’s fair to say his team is actively scouting. In terms of what he’s looking for, series with cross-territory appeal like Penelope K are high on the list, but programs that work solely for individual markets aren’t necessarily out of the running, either.

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