If London-based global news broadcaster, the BBC ever considered having a local linear television presence in India, it would only be with full editorial control over such a potential offering, and preferably with an Indian partner that isn’t presence in the news television space already, Jim Egan, chief executive officer of BBC Global News told Fortune India in an interview.
Though small, India is an important market for the BBC, through its presence across platforms like radio, television and digital. The BBC has doubled its revenue in India over the last five years, says Egan, who was in Mumbai last week, and is aiming to achieve a similar feat over the next five years.
The BBC has expanded the scope of its operations in India over the last two years by extending its services to eight vernacular Indian languages (apart from English news), from four earlier. In an effort to shore up revenues, it has also established a local arm of its branded content wing, BBC StoryWorks, based at its India headquarters in New Delhi.
What is your outlook on India and the BBC’s future plans in the country?
The media sector in India is growing at an impressive rate, driven by overall GDP growth, which is eye-watering to some of us in Europe. And as the tide rises, all the boats go up with it.
We only have a small market share in India, but it is market we take very seriously due to the size of the audience and the increasing commercial potential here. We have a long association with India, where we were present through shortwave radio earlier and have modernised since over the last 12 years or so. There has been significant expansion over the last two years, during which time we expanded our services from four vernacular languages to eight, apart from English language news. So we are pleased with how things are going. India is a growth market where we have seen our revenue nearly double over the last five years.
What will be the role of digital play in further deepening the BBC’s presence in India?
There are some restrictions on what we stream online since subscribers pay for our linear television news service. So we are quite careful as to what we move to the OTT (over-the-top) space. One of the good things about digital, on-demand service is that it is complementary to our television news service. There are quite a few high-quality news and current affairs programmes and documentaries that may be shown on TV three or four times and then it is gone. But as some online operators start building out their content libraries we are able to put some of our shows there and people are then able to come back and watch whatever is of particular interest to them.
Digital has been growing well for us. We are extending the advertising products that we are offering to clients globally in India as well. While we have seen pay TV revenue grow up steadily, the growth has been much more significant on the online advertising revenue side.
This isn’t just conventional banner advertising but programmatic marketing, as well as branded content. We have a branded content team called BBC StoryWorks for three-and-a-half years now, and last year we set up a small outfit of BBC StoryWorks in India, because the branded content that is made out of London comes with a certain price tag that’s prohibitive for many advertisers. By making branded content locally in India, we are much more fit-for-purpose in terms of what clients are looking for.
We have worked with brands like the Ministry of Tourism (of the Indian government), the Make in India campaign, Taj Hotels, Mastercard and others. We want to work with international brands that are looking at India, as well as Indian brands that want to reach out to a global audience.
Would the BBC consider having a local news television presence in India, either through a joint venture with an Indian partner or under a licence agreement?
We have considered this in the past, but it isn’t very likely. At the end of the day if the channel is going to be branded the BBC in any way, editorial control needs to solely rest with us. What we have found that editorial content isn’t a divisive concept. You either have it or you don’t. The events of the past few weeks surrounding Kashmir and the border areas serve as an example of how a partnership can lead to an editorial deadlock about how we treat some of these sensitive issues.
If we ever do a joint venture with an Indian partner it would be easiest to do it with someone who is not already in the new business – may be a new player, or a financial investor, or media companies that isn’t present in news. If someone were to come to us and have a conversation along those lines and sort out the issue of editorial control then we could look at it.