British talent’s platform for international growth

  • Click here to see marketers questions to BBC Worldwide global head of marketing Helen Kellie
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BBC Worldwide is on a roll. This year will see it chase serious growth in international markets as it embarks on a dual mission of doubling its presence in the US and making two-thirds of its revenue from outside the UK by 2012.

The BBC subsidiary is starting from a strong position. Its £145m profit for the 2009/10 financial year was up 36.5% on the previous 12 months, boosted by a 7% sales increase, which pushed it past the £1bn revenue mark.

And in January alone, it launched BBC-branded television channels in Brazil, India and the Philippines, along with a Doctor Who toy range and YouTube channel, Lonely Planet-branded luggage, a Good Food magazine iPad app in the UK and a Top Gear-branded magazine in Norway.

A key figure behind this growth is global marketing director Helen Kellie, who is the organisation’s first official brand head, and the first to take a place on the company’s board.

Kellie took on the role two years ago and is responsible for building the BBC brand and its sub-brands globally, through market launches including BBC-branded channels. This new line of thinking has seen 26 branded channels launch in the past four years as BBC Worldwide moves away from distributing content through partners. Channels are broken down into genre categories such as news, entertainment, BBC Knowledge, BBC HD, BBC Lifestyle and CBeebies.

We have built a brand and tone of voice around being proud to be British, but thrilled to be in America

David Moody, BBC Worldwide

There is no doubt the last two years have seen huge growth, but how much of this can be attributed directly to the creation of a central marketing role, its elevation to the board and the impact of Kellie herself?

Kellie laughs at what she calls “the million dollar question every marketing director would love to know the answer to”.

“Of course my role is a contributing factor,” she says. “But it’s a combination of things – having a very clear strategy about where we are investing, where we are going to be more aggressive, where we need to drive profit out of our older businesses. All of that has helped drive growth.”

Kellie’s team is not only tasked with stretching BBC content into further goods and formats, but Kellie herself is the commissioner and keeper of insight from an audience segmentation project that helps guide BBC Worldwide’s strategy.

The segmentation and brand tracker research helps BBC Worldwide keep its finger on the pulse of its five key markets – the UK, Australia, Scandinavia, the US and Japan.

BBC's Top Gear
BBC’s Top Gear

The company’s role is different in each (see What is BBC Worldwide?, below). In the UK, it sits alongside its counterpart BBC, embedded in British culture as the longstanding public service provider of news, documentaries and entertainment. Australia is a natural partner, with programme formats such as Top Gear, Strictly Come Dancing and Lonely Planet magazine, which Worldwide bought in 2007. The country’s own public broadcaster, ABC, is a long-time content distribution partner. Since 2006 it has launched three BBC-branded channels on cable television in Australia – Knowledge, HD and CBeebies.

Japan is another story, literally, with viewers there preferring dramas made by neighbour Korea than the UK; which makes cultural sense. In December, BBC format Dancing with the Stars was licensed by the Korean MBC Plus Media to run on its MBC Dramanet channel this year. Dancing with the Stars also runs in China, and has a global audience of 250 million.

While Europe and Latin America are also in Kellie’s sights, it is America that is the holy grail. She describes it as “far and away the world’s biggest media market”. BBC America launched 10 years ago, and is now accessed by about 75 million households. This compares well with US networks HBO (31 million) and Showtime (23 million) and has been helped by BBC Worldwide moving key brands such as Top Gear and Doctor Who from US channels Discovery and SyFy, respectively, and nurturing them via the BBC America platform. This channel also showcases non-BBC content that comes from the UK, making it a platform for the British film and television industry.

BBC's Dr Who
BBC’s Dr Who

Doctor Who’s launch on BBC America last year was watched by a network record of 1.2 million and attracted BMW as a sponsor. And Top Gear’s US launch later in the year attracted double the average amount for its timeslot, according to Kellie. Other series, such as Torchwood and Skins (on Channel 4 in this country) have also found ratings success after BBC America championed their remaking with US actors and settings.

Even British sport is making its way across the pond. While the BBC in the UK showed American Football’s Super Bowl last weekend, BBC America is broadcasting five rugby matches from this year’s Six Nations series, starting with France v Scotland last Saturday.

While attractive, the US market is beset with challenges. As BBC Worldwide strategy director David Moody spelt out at a Westminster Media Forum late last year, America has the largest domestic production business in the world, with its own TV channels dominated by locally produced content.

Kellie is acutely aware of this, which is why brand building and marketing is key to BBC America’s success. “Here in the UK everyone knows and loves the BBC,” she says. “Our challenge overseas is to take what is a small challenger brand, compared with some of the big national and regional networks, and develop it.

“It’s our job to extend the BBC’s fame and reputation in news into our educational and factual content, through brands like BBC Knowledge. In more developed markets like the US and Australia, we are trying to build the brand as a total media experience.”

Getting through to different audiences in different markets is, in some part, about sensible “trade-offs”, claims Kellie, such as keeping the essence of a show’s premise but culturally contextualising its format. “I need to build global scale and consistency, but ultimately I want a particular consumer in a particular city to love what I am doing. It has to connect with them on the ground in a real way, locally.”


Kellie’s segmentation project reveals BBC Worldwide’s key audience is “the worldly wise, slightly older and more upmarket. They appreciate content and have a wider perspective beyond their own local community. They are also looking for content that is slightly more stimulating and intelligent than average, and maybe more irreverent and innovative”.

Knowing what works in the US and what does not is crucial. As Moody told the forum last year, insights such as those delivered by Kellie’s research are critical to local commissioning built around UK shows.

“We have built a deep understanding of what British content works with US audiences, namely escapist drama like Doctor Who, Primeval, Being Human, factual entertainment built around big personalities like Jeremy Clarkson and Gordon Ramsay and light entertainment like Graham Norton,” Moody said. “We have built a brand and tone of voice around being proud to be British, but thrilled to be in America.”

BBC Worldwide’s American ambitions are being realised thanks to its use of digital channels – especially social media. Its Facebook pages for Top Gear and Top Gear driver the Stig have about 8 million fans, while Kellie’s team uses platforms such as Twitter to engage with audiences.

“Facebook is important. It plays to the kinds of show we have, with very loyal fans who want to find out more about the back stories to the shows,” says Kellie.

But perhaps even more exciting is the launch of an international version of BBC iPlayer later this year. As Moody revealed in his presentation: “It will be a best of British service brought alive by using brands, talent and genres that already resonate with local audiences for being ’British’.”

You need to make sure you are clear on what marketing is there to do, and that you don’t go into marketing bollocks – you straight talk

When aligned with Kellie’s audience insight that members of the BBC’s key demographic are more likely to be early adopters of devices such as iPads and iPhones, an international iPlayer model will be a powerful tool for content distribution, revenue generation and further partnerships with UK and overseas brands.

A global iPlayer could play to the trend of audiences interacting with each other online while watching TV. It happens today through the combination of dual consumption of portable devices and television, but will be happening in the not-too-distant future through a new world of connected TV.

“People will watch in a completely different way in two years’ time,” says Kellie.”None of us quite know how yet, but we need to think about flexibility. When you watch in an online TV environment, there is much more fluidity than watching from broadcast. We have to think of how we can enhance a viewer experience, whether it’s voting on a TV show or allowing viewers to freeze-frame a particular element of the show to find out more about what’s in it.”

The speed of viewer take-up, claims Kellie, will depend on how media companies make it a must-have experience. “When there is real added value, things tend to escalate quickly,” she says. “Tablet devices have become popular so quickly because they offer something different that is of real value to consumers.”


So does the success of BBC Worldwide put to rest the ongoing debate around whether original quality British content is drying up? Kellie laughs: “I’ve been hearing that for about the past 30 years.”

She adds: “It’s about continuing to make great shows with great stories, scripts and casts. Take Sherlock – that really worked in this market, we made it a key show and it will work in other markets. The excitement we have had from the buyers is immense.”

Selling content around a British identity clearly adds a unique flavour to BBC Worldwide, but Kellie argues that content must be compelling, regardless of having a British tag.

“We do sell the fact that our shows are from the BBC. But they need to stand up as great content in their own right (outside their British identity), so it’s less important that they are set, say, in Cardiff,” she explains. “We want to make sure we have storylines that will travel and that are about common things people all over the world can engage with. Coming out of Britain is not their reason for being.”

Kellie is clear that 2011 is the year of “super sizing” BBC Worldwide’s big brands, and British content making its mark on the world.


Marketing Week (MW) Can you describe the aim of BBC Worldwide?

Helen Kellie (HK) We are a £1bn business and have been growing by 7-10% over the past few years. We acquire intellectual property and programme rights from the BBC and add value to it. For example, we will buy the rights to Top Gear and develop the magazine, live show and website to drive profits, as well as developing the format for distribution in international markets.

MW How is marketing part of BBC Worldwide’s growth strategy?

HK Marketing is central to driving not only the BBC brand, but also key title brands such as Lonely Planet, Doctor Who and Top Gear, as well as individual channels such as BBC Knowledge and CBeebies. We have also done things such as agency deals and in 2009 we consolidated all our media buying into Zenith.

MW What does your role specifically involve?

HK I have a marketing director in each key business [for each brand] and we work closely with each managing director to understand their ambitions. I need to really understand their business to make sure the marketing delivers ROI as hard and fast as possible. But I have a wider long-term strategy of driving all our big brands. There might be some things that don’t see a return immediately, but there are things that we know will be important in the future. We have to balance both.

MW How does what happens at the BBC affect BBC Worldwide?

HK We have a very clear agenda of what we’re doing, and a lot of that is outside the UK. So a lot of the time it’s also about not getting distracted by what happens at the BBC. Our relationship is very important and we need a strong, healthy BBC that continues to develop great shows. But we have our own agenda in terms of driving the best commercial value out of the intellectual property the BBC develops and we acquire from it.

MW: You are BBC Worldwide’s first marketing director, and you are on the company’s board. How does that influence the business?

HK When my role was created, it was specifically to be on the board – my role didn’t really exist in previous forms. Our chief executive, John Smith, has a very clear vision of our strategy, and part of that is growing through branded properties. He recognised that to do that he needed to have a marketer embedded in the business.

MW Do you have a strategy for how you approach your position and dealings with other board members?

HK You need to make sure you are clear on what marketing is there to do, and that you don’t go into marketing bollocks – you straight talk. As a member of the board, I’m not just contributing in terms of a brand and marketing story, but I am part of shaping where the whole business is going. I need to be as commercial as our managing directors or I’m not going to be able to understand the business in the right way.

MW You were once an FMCG marketer at Reckitt Colman [now Benckiser]. How does it compare with your current role?

HK I worked at Reckitt in the US business just as it was setting up global brands. I learned a lot about how clear you have to be – what are the things that are too strategically important to compromise, but what other things can you let go of?

Recognising what local nuances we needed to take into account and what can be globally uniform is important, too. For example, for home hygiene brand Dettol, the medical endorsement is useful around the world. Showing a baby crawling across a newly cleaned floor is an iconic shot that you use in almost every market. But then what smells clean is different for each market. It’s predominantly lemon in South America, lavender in France and pine in the UK and US.

Marketer to marketer


Greg Klassen, senior vice-president of marketing at Tourism Canada, asks: The iPad and other tablet or mobile devices are a really interesting brand and marketing opportunity for the commercial part of the BBC. What are you doing to drive this strategy?

Helen Kellie (HK) We’re very proud that some of our apps have made it onto Apple’s iTunes Rewind 2010 selection of the best apps, including BBC Good Food Quick Recipes and Healthy Recipes. The BBC Listener app was also voted one of the top news apps. Apps offer new tailored distribution opportunities for our content, from paid-for apps or Lonely Planet guides, which are GPS-enabled and for which we have 5 million paid-for downloads to date.

There are also ad-funded opportunities such as the news app, which is available outside the UK. It is free to use and is funded by advertising and has been downloaded 2 million times to date.

Apps are a great way for brands to build consumer engagement or sample content like the John Bishop On Tour free app, or the Who is the Stig? paid-for app. The possibilities are endless.


Andrew Cocker, European marketing director at Yahoo!, asks: What advertising opportunities will there be for brands around (new digital and internet TV service) YouView?

HK YouView and other web-enabled TV services offer brands the full integration of the TV and web experience on a single screen. You can move seamlessly from Top Gear the TV show to Top Gear’s Facebook page on one device and use both at the same time, giving consumers a much richer brand experience. The same would apply to advertisers moving seamlessly between their TV ad and other web or ecommerce experiences. Immediate brand action or transaction would be just one click away.


My last 24 hours

We have been looking at our brand tracker results around the globe, as well as finalising launch plans for Doctor Who globally. We are also spending some time with Google, which is a very important partner for us. We have been looking at Google TV and what that means for us.

Additionally, we are reviewing our eCRM and consumer engagement plans and preparing the launch of global iPlayer. Typically, I will also see a couple of my marketing directors each day to work on individual projects.

What is BBC Worldwide?

BBC Worldwide is a private subsidiary of the BBC, which runs as a commercial enterprise with its own executive board.

As chairman Robert Webb stated in BBC Worldwide’s 2009/10 annual review: “BBC Worldwide acts not only for the BBC. It distributes programmes and products, and makes programmes with, an array of independent UK companies and producers.”


In 2009/10, BBC Worldwide returned £151.1m to the BBC, and invested £1bn in other UK creative industries. It is the biggest investor in the ITV series Primeval, which BBC Worldwide distributes in the US via BBC America. BBC-branded channels in overseas markets are also commercial entities and carry advertising. Webb says BBC Worldwide makes up about 10% of the UK’s total creative exports.

BBC Worldwide also comprises BBC Magazines, including titles such as Radio Times, Good Food and Gardeners’ World.

Both the House of Lords and think-tank Policy Exchange have recommended the privatisation of BBC Worldwide, making it a completely separate entity to the BBC. However, a BBC Trust spokesman said in December: “Worldwide is not for sale, (but) we reserve the right to consider formally the appropriate ownership structure for Worldwide, should we see fit in the future.”


CV Helen Kellie

October 2008 to present: Global director of marketing for BBC Worldwide, and a member of the executive board
2000 to 2008: Director of brand and planning, then director of marketing, communications and audiences for BBC Vision (the BBC’s production group)
1989 to 2000: Euro category director – Surface & Lavatory Care (Paris), global category manager – Home Hygiene (New York), various marketing roles on brands from Lemsip to Lysol at Reckitt & Colman (now Reckitt Benckiser)


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