Last week, Cablevision and BBC America struck a carriage deal that elated a whole lot of Tri-State area-based Anglophiles—this editor included. The MSO now carries the Brit-oriented channel, a move which puts BBCA’s footprint above the 70 million mark. On the heels of its best quarter ever (2Q ’11), ad sales being up 50% and the recent order for “Copper,” its first original scripted series, to air summer 2012, the channel is certainly on a roll. CableFAX spoke with Richard De Croce, svp Programming for BBC America, on Brit-themed shows, original programming and the channel’s plans for the future.
Did you know there was both an online petition and a Facebook page to get Cablevision to carry BBCA?
I didn’t know that, but I’m not surprised. And I don’t know if you started it, and if you did, thank you. I’m from Bergen County, one of Cablevision’s markets. I grew up with Cablevision—it’s a terrific service. But in order to do my job properly I needed to have the channel. So I switched to another system. And I know on a lot of the social media pages that we follow, when we’ve got big premieres, people are saying “Oh I love it, I wish I had it.” And now they have it, which is so satisfying, from all our points of view—programming, affiliate, press, ad sales, marketing, digital, every aspect of the business is so thrilled about this deal.
Why did Cablevision hold out?
I don’t know. I wasn’t privy to that negotiation. But Cablevision has been a long time coming. This puts us over 70 million, which is an incredible milestone for the channel. Cablevision’s footprint—the markets that they’re in—is kind of an ideal pairing with our programming, in terms of the upscale, affluent, highly educated viewer. The ad sales department has certainly felt the impact. Our sales are up in a very difficult market.
What are the challenges to showing British television in the U.S.?
In terms of the amount of content the UK makes, they have a different commissioning structure. It’s just a different business model than the U.S. They make 6 episode orders, or 4. You’re lucky if you get 8. That’s difficult to sustain a channel whose goal it is to showcase the best of British. You know the scope of this market, and how competitive the landscape is. In order to keep an audience, you need a level of consistency as well—so people know whether they can find “Top Gear” at 9pm at Monday night, 52 weeks a year. And when you have only a certain amount of output and a limited marketing reach, you kind of need your schedule to do a lot of that work.
Are you looking for these kinds of deals with other MSOs?
We are continuing to roll out the channel. Over 70 million homes at this point, so now looking to get to those next levels. Obviously, we’re not fully distributed. We’ve got a terrific affiliate sales team who’s never at their desks—which is a good thing. They’re out speaking to our affiliate partners and working on getting additional distribution for the channel.
How are your new fall shows doing? “The Hour,” starring Dominic West (HBO’s “The Wire"), has gotten great reviews.
We’re still looking at ratings from the last week and a half. I’ve been here a long time, and we’ve gotten great press on shows in the past, but there has been such an exceptional reaction to this show, from across the board.
Is it helpful that both “The Hour” and “Luther”—whose star, Idris Elba, is nominated for an Emmy—have leads that are well known to American audiences?
Well, that’s something we looked at. We were pretty involved with both of these shows. I mean “Luther” came to us with Idris already attached. Our audience is extremely media savvy, and will have consumed a lot of content, and I’m sure “The Wire” would have been one of those series. Idris was well known, as “Stringer Bell” in “The Wire,” to, I’m sure, a lot of our audience. We also had some input on casting with “The Hour.” You know when Dominic West’s name came up, we gave our wholehearted endorsement of that—and he’s been phenomenal.
They were both at TCA, in some way or another.
It was funny at TCA to show a “Luther” clip and have Dominic via satellite from London in the West End, and to have each of those men speaking in their native tongue. I think it was a bit jarring for some people, who only knew them with American accents.
The fact that they’re familiar has to help.
Without a doubt. They’re both at the top of their game. Which is great, and they’ve been a pleasure to work with to help promote these series. And “The Hour” has been so incredibly well received to the point where national magazine editors are requesting copies. When you get to that level of buzz, it only helps.
Does “Copper” reflect a move toward original programming?
“Copper” centers around an Irish cop in the Five Points, and it’s really about the immigrant experience in the 19th Century New York. We’re so thrilled and excited, in every department, to be involved in this project. Yes, we’ll have more original programming. We announced a fairly comprehensive slate of unscripted content in July. We’ve got a number of shows that have been resonating for years, whether on the unscripted side whether it’s “Top Gear” of “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” or Graham Norton’s show, on Saturday night. The first phase of our development has focused on building on those successes. We’ve also been looking to do talent extensions with the presenters, like "Richard Hammond’s Crash Course,” for the early part of 2012. And we’ll probably be announcing a 2nd wave of unscripted development as well. So both on the scripted and unscripted side we are very seriously in the original commissions game. And those are through relationships on both sides of the Atlantic. There will always be some level of British connectivity, because that’s what people come to us for on some level.
Would you say that British TV shows are becoming more popular in the U.S.?
It seems as though from the early part of this year, with Ricky Gervais hosting the Golden Globes, we had shows that we had aired and then remade by other networks—“Top Gear,” “Being Human,” “Shameless”… I think our audience is always looking to be challenged and looking for great formats. And certainly the American audience has picked up on the innovative nature of British television. And the Royal Wedding was probably as big here as it was as big here as anywhere else in the world. We’ve seen British hosts on other big shows that have really resonated, from “American Idol” to “Dancing With the Stars” and Piers Morgan replaced Larry King. It’s been happening for several years, it just seems as though there’s been quite a nexus of attention paid to British talent. And it seems a bit more accepted, in terms of the U.S. market.