The BBC will acquire seven channels from the UKTV portfolio while Discovery will take full control of three lifestyle channels. The BBC has also signed a £300 million 10-year deal to distribute its natural history shows internationally on a new global online video service run by Discovery, expected to launch by the end of 2019. The BBC and Discovery will also work on new natural history programmes to be shown by the BBC in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the BBC is moving the licensing of some of its channels to Europe in case the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without securing an agreement.
The agreements with Discovery will finally settle the future of the UKTV channels, with a structured split of the joint venture. BBC Studios will acquire seven of the suite of channels: Alibi, Dave, Drama, Eden, Gold, Yesterday and W. The BBC currently provides around half of the programming on these channels. It will also retain the UKTV brand and the digital player UKTV Play. Marcus Arthur of BBC Studios will assume the role of chief executive of UKTV.
Discovery will retain three lifestyle channels: Good Food, Home, and Really. These will complement the 16 channels provided in the United Kingdom, including the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, ID, Quest, and Eurosport. James Gibbons of Discovery will manage the channels as part of its portfolio in the United Kingdom.
As part of the UKTV agreement, BBC Studios will make payments totalling £173 million to Discovery. This includes a balancing payment in relation to the channels acquisition and the assumption of £70 million of debt, currently financed by Discovery.
The BBC has agreed a 10-year programming partnership that will make Discovery the exclusive home of BBC natural history programmes as part of a new subscription online video service. That includes the Planet Earth, Blue Planet, and Life series, the recent Dynasties programmes, as well as future landmark productions following their scheduled broadcast.
Discovery will also acquire the subscription video on demand rights to hundreds of hours of factual programming from the BBC. This will form part of a new global online video offering to be launched by Discovery before 2020, both through distribution partners and as a direct-to-consumer service.
David Zaslav, the president and chief executive of Discovery, said: “The new platform will be the first global direct-to-consumer service with the category’s most iconic IP including the Planet Earth series, future sequels and spin-offs to all existing landmark series, and new exclusive natural history and science programming coming in the future.”
“There is tremendous value in the marketplace for these programming categories which have broad appeal and strong multi-generational engagement, and we hope to fill the void in the global marketplace for a dedicated high quality product.”
Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, described it as its largest-ever programming deal. “It will mean BBC Studios and Discovery will work together to take our content right across the globe through a new world-beating streaming service,” he said. “Global subscribers are in for a real treat: the best content on a great new platform.”
“This is brilliant news for audiences here as it will enable the BBC to invest even more in factual programming for them. That’s also why BBC Studios taking control of the UKTV channels that best fit our programmes is good news. It means a secure future with long-term commercial returns.”
The deal provides the impoverished BBC with a relatively modest cash contribution and a production and distribution partnership for its future natural history programming. Yet it also limits the opportunities for the BBC to exploit these rights itself, although in many cases the programmes are typically co-productions with other partners, which inherently complicates distribution arrangements.
In contrast, companies like Netflix can commission programmes outright and control their own distribution. Netflix has released an eight-part original series Our Planet, narrated by Sir David Attenborough and created in collaboration with Alastair Fothergill, who was the creator of the original Planet Earth and Blue Planet series.
So the BBC can no longer claim to be the home of natural history production and even Discovery can no longer rely on it as its exclusive domain. After all, animals do not have rights.
Meanwhile, the BBC is reported to be moving some of its broadcasting licences to the Netherlands in case the United Kingdom leaves the European Union without securing a withdrawal agreement and transitional arrangements.
The BBC is joining Discovery, Viacom and NBC Universal in relocating licences to Europe. The licences relate to channels operated by BBC Studios, the commercial division of the BBC, that are broadcast in Europe.
Licences issued by the United Kingdom communications regulator Ofcom would not be recognised in Europe in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Broadcasters are required to have a head office, a significant part of their workforce, or a satellite uplink in a European country to qualify for a licence there.
A BBC representative said: “As an international broadcaster operating a number of commercial channels in the EU we are ensuring the necessary arrangements are in place to continue operating those channels in any changed regulatory environment.”
Leaving the European Union without an agreement and transitional arrangements also affects the distribution of the main public service channels of the BBC in European countries that are not party to the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. That includes Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden.