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BBC Studios Asia exec: Navigating China's regulation through local partners

China's opaque regulation requires the adoption of the partnership model.

Strongest content in China is science documentaries.

➤ BBC Studios Asia will stick to the channels business in Asia instead of rolling out a new digital platform.

Earlier this year, BBC Worldwide Ltd. and BBC Studios Ltd merged to create BBC Studios, a media company that sees content through the full life cycle of development, commissioning, production and co-production as well as sales and distribution. The development also heralded the start of new production opportunities in China, which included partnerships with Chinese TV stations and digital platforms to co-develop and co-produce original content across various factual genres.

David Weiland, executive vice president, Asia, at BBC Studios, spoke to S&P Global Market Intelligence about the company's efforts to gain a deeper foothold in China.

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David Weiland, BBC Studios, executive vice president, Asia
Source: Asia Video Summit 2018

S&P Global Market Intelligence: How has the merger, officially announced in April this year, impacted BBC Studios' Asia operations?

David Weiland: It is in its early days, but the merger has given us a foundation to make things happen end-to-end. For example, the producer of the drama series "Dynasties," a partnership announced with Tencent Holdings Ltd. in October to help grow BBC's Chinese online community for people passionate about natural history and science, is far more engaged in the show's development than before. The merger has also helped us attract better talent, from producers to cameramen and writers, and this has helped us gain success in China overall.

How difficult has it been to operate in a market like China where there is an ongoing clampdown of online content?

China is a fascinating market, but the challenge is the slightly opaque regulation. This is why we have chosen to adopt the partnership models that involves teaming up with local players such as Tencent, Baidu Inc. or Youku Tudou Inc., as they are able to navigate the domestic regulation better than us.

Has it been easy to secure content partnerships in China?

Initially, we were aligned with broadcasters including CCTV. Now, it has been three years since we secured relationships with China's BAT — Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent — and with our focus on producing factual storytelling and global dramas, we have managed to define these relationships better.

What has worked in China and what has not?

Our strongest content in the country has been science documentaries. Recently we also announced we are launching a space where fans can interact with creators and producers. We have been livestreaming from locations around the world and this has resonated with our Chinese viewers. We are not doing this in other markets. China is a fast-moving market, so we have learned to be more agile while focusing on what we can offer that Chinese local producers cannot.

Speaking more generally about Asia, are there any plans to go directly to the consumer to compete in the video-on-demand space?

In Asia we made a choice to be in the channels business, not in the platform business. Having said that, digital platforms are in a great space as they can serve an audience with an affinity for international content. As such, in the last few years while we have launched no new linear channels, we have rolled out digital services with our linear channel partners, which only exist in the on-demand space such as BBC Player and BBC First.

It has been four years since you made the move from Europe to Asia to oversee BBC Studios' operations in this region. What has been the biggest challenge for you?

One challenge is the way Asia is often defined as one region. What is going on in Japan is similar to Europe, while emerging markets like China and India are completely different. This translates to having a multi-strategic approach rather than a single approach.