Teletubbies and Wallace & Gromit are about to get the same treatment as one of the BBC’s longest running shows, Top of The Pops – their own global brand managers.
It is part of the effort from BBC Worldwide to develop its programmes, or “properties” in the case of the children’s favourites, as multi-media brands. Last week Marketing Week revealed that the pop show is to have its own global brand manager, Leslie Golding, to exploit the show internationally (MW March 12).
A number of revamps during the Nineties failed to prevent the 34-year-old show from haemorrhaging viewers. But it has stabilised its viewing figures and is now coming out fighting with plans to leverage the brand in a number of different merchandising areas and territories.
BBC Worldwide has already translated the brand into a top selling teen magazine which saw a 71 per cent increase in its circulation to 500,963 in the July to December 1997 period, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. It is now rolling out TOTP-branded albums to compete in the buoyant compilation CD sector.
Next month the BBC will also produce its first German language version of the show alongside a Hamburg TV production company, for the broadcaster RTL. A deal with French broadcaster M6 to exploit TOTP material, past and present, for the French TV market is also rumoured but unconfirmed.
Peter Van den bussche, head of programme sales at Initial, the TV company which produces the rival Pepsi Chart Show for Channel 5, believes the TOTP brand is ripe for both domestic and international exploitation.
“I think they have finally stumbled upon something which they haven’t recognised the value of previously,” he says. “TOTP is a strong brand both in the UK and across Europe, but until now it hasn’t really been sold into many countries.”
TOTP is currently available to 5.6 million European subscribers to its European entertainment channel, and has also won a long-standing audience in parts of Belgium and Holland where the BBC television signal can be received.
This, plus the licensing of new and old clips from the show to other European broadcasters, makes the TOTP brand a natural choice for overseas broadcasters seeking to develop music programming, according to BBC Worldwide.
“TOTP is in its 34th year and it’s very well know across Europe as the leading pop chart show,” says a BBC Worldwide spokeswoman. “So when RTL and other broadcasters are looking to establish a music programme, it makes sense for them to buy into our brand rather than produce a programme from scratch.”
The economics of producing television is also pushing broadcasters towards tailoring programme brands for the international market, according to Van den bussche.
Initial last week produced its own pilot of the Pepsi Chart Show destined for the Portuguese market. The pilot featured a Portuguese presenter performing links and interviewing international pop stars featured in the show, with the aim of selling the Pepsi-branded programme into the Portuguese market.
Initial is also looking at securing deals to produce tailored shows for the Scandinavian and Russian markets, partly subsidised by the international drinks brand which is keen to associate itself with pop music culture, says Van den bussche.
“The Pepsi Chart show is an advertiser-supported programme, and we are depending on sales of the show tailored for local markets to establish the commercial success of the venture,” says Van den bussche.
But plans to leverage the TOTP brand extend beyond simple overseas programme sales. A range of international publishing activity – including books, tapes and videos as well as compilation albums.
Kevin Harrington, global marketing director at BBC Worldwide, claims the push into music publishing will not raise the hackles of rival record labels. “We are working with the BPI [the UK recording industry trade body] to ensure problems don’t arise.”
Certainly plans to launch TOTP-branded albums make perfect sense to record industry executives. One quarter of the 200 million albums sold in the UK last year were compilations.
According to Jane Bardsley at Virgin Music, which partners EMI in producing the Now That’s What I Call Music series, associations with successful TV shows can be a key advantage in establishing share of voice in the sector, and is a major driver of sales.
“The compilation market is very competitive, so you either have to create a brand, or sell off the back of an established brand,” she says. “And the BBC obviously have a strong music brand in TOTP.”
Plans to integrate all the branding activity for TOTP under one brand manager are likely to be rolled out to a number of other BBC brand properties which will be identified for having international sales and merchandising potential.
Already, for programmes such as Top Gear, this has involved moves to develop the brand on the Internet as part of BBC Worldwide’s joint online venture with ICL – another eventual route for developing revenue streams from sales of related merchandise and editorial content.
“We will be recruiting more brand managers as the process of identifying programmes which can be exploited as global brands across a variety of platforms, continues,” says Harrington. “The normal programme sales and licensing activity surrounding all our programmes will continue as before. What is new is that we are looking to identify a small number of global brands, and working out how we can improve the value delivered to ourselves, the viewer and our commercial partners.”
But as one commercial publisher, who has regular dealings with BBC, puts it: “The problem with working with the BBC until recently is that it was like dealing with a slow lumbering machine. To get anything done with it always required lots of meetings. It’s not like a commercial organisation where decision making is quick and clean.”
Comments such as these suggest that if BBC Worldwide is to successfully exploit TOTP, Teletubbies, Wallace & Gromit and its other stalwarts, it still has a few lessons to learn.