At the end of this month BBC Worldwide will announce yet another restructure of its operations.
It will be the latest stage in the wholesale clearout of the BBC’s commercial arm and a further step towards the BBC becoming a total media organisation, rather than a broadcaster with a few bolt-on media operations.
BBC Worldwide’s first restructure at the start of the year paved the way for a radical overhaul of its branding, and brought the different media divisions under one roof.
These include the existing BBC Magazines; the video and book publishing interests; a partnership with Flextech TV, created from the teams from the cable TV stations UK Gold and UK Living; and an association with ICL, branded “Beeb”, which has already developed Internet operations for Radio Times and Top Gear.
Dick Emery became chief operating officer and Worldwide Television’s marketing director Simon Sudbury was appointed marketing director across all Worldwide’s media operations. His brief is to co-ordinate the brand portfolio across media and take charge of new product development.
The restructure was intended to exploit its cross-media brands in the UK and international markets, with the aim of trebling Worldwide’s contribution to the BBC to 200m in the next decade.
By the end of the month, BBC Worldwide will announce a further restructure following the departure of Nick Chapman, managing director of its publishing and multimedia division.
BBC Magazines managing director Peter Phippen is expected to be given greater involvement in BBC Worldwide’s media interests. His role will become key to the success of the new venture. BBC Magazines will play a leading role in these changes.
Phippen, who tellingly prefers to call magazines and readers “brands” and “consumers”, sees BBC Magazines as one element of the total mix.
Like Rupert Miles, ex-publisher of Radio Times who moved out of magazines to become director of BBC Online last summer, Phippen has no qualms about developing his involvement in other areas of the media.
He says: “We are seeing the rise of a new generation of people who are not as media constrained as previous generations. These people are more likely to move around different media but within a particular market such as motoring or food.”
Though magazine houses such as the National Magazine Company are getting involved in brand stretching – for instance, Cosmopolitan’s move into TV and retailing – BBC Magazines is uniquely placed in the market to take advantage of other media opportunities.
Its privileged position of being a public service broadcaster has allowed it to be one step ahead of its rivals in extending magazine brands. For instance, unlike other publishers it has not been hindered by ITC regulations banning magazine publishers from making masthead TV programmes.
Phippen says as a result of BBC Magazines’ unique position, it is able to have a more ambitious approach to brand development. “The traditional view of brand extensions would put the magazine brand at the heart, but if you want to position yourself for the next century you should look at it slightly differently. At the heart is an editorial idea with the potential to live in different media instead of brand extensions. I would prefer the term brand dimensions.”
He uses Top Gear as an example of how current and future BBC Worldwide brands are developing. “Top Gear is first and foremost a motoring brand, rather than a major TV programme or a magazine.”
Others are likely to follow. The division launches a new general interest women’s magazine later this year, edited by Right Start editor Anita Bevan.
Chris Shaw, director of planning at Universal McCann’s media operation, says it is difficult to generalise about the past or future success of BBC Magazines and its associated products because the quality is so variable.
He says: “There is not a BBC Magazine style or formula like there is at NatMags or Condé Nast. Some brands, such as Top Gear or Homes & Antiques, have been very successful. Others, like Holiday Magazine and Good Health, have fallen by the wayside or have lost their direction, as has The Clothes Show.
“For cross-media branding to be effective it obviously has to be consistently strong in each medium. I don’t think The Clothes Show magazine really added anything to the TV programme.”
Shaw also doubts whether many of the brands are capable of being translated into international markets because of their “parochial” nature.
Ironically, the question is not whether BBC Worldwide can successfully push parochial brands around the world, but whether advertisers are ready to follow. Though the company may be committing vast resources to support the transition, the BBC does not have a funding black hole.
The key to its success will be advertisers which, it hopes, will be keen to exploit opportunities to enter new markets with the BBC’s brands.