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BBC: secondary rights and its brand

Link: MediaGuardian.co.uk | New media | Fancy a Kumars curry?.

Later this month a website will enable customers to buy products such as a Martha Stewart-style The Kumars at No 42 book or Father Ted cards online.

Thanks to the new terms of trade with the BBC, which gives independents the majority of secondary rights revenue, producers are looking for more ways to exploit their brands.

About a year ago Hat Trick sat down to think of new ways of earning money.

The Hat Trick group business director, Hilary Strong, said: "I think we’re the first indie to do this. We decided to look at the programmes we have made in the way other industries do, as brands in their own right, rather than just re-formatting them or other traditional ways the TV industry has dealt with brands, such as DVDs or books.

"Apart from children’s television there’s very little else that has been done with merchandising," she said.

I think the move described above is quite significant.  The BBC has relaxed it’s tight stranglehold on retaining different rights to content as it tries to keep it’s licence fee model in the face of a move toward greater ‘openess’ and more vocal opposition.  Freeing up secondary rights is also a signal, I believe, that BBC Worldwide [it’s money-making, rights-holding, commercial arm] is being marginalised as other revenue models are explored. 

But what are the ramifications of this move toward freer secondary rights? Could you see a situation whereby TV programmes are produced as ‘loss leaders’ by Independents to gain secondary rights to games and other merchandising, for example?  Access to such an audience base as that reached by the BBC would surely push deals like this through despite the ‘fair trading’ required by the BBC. 

And how will the BBC manage to maintain a sense of non-commercial [and Public Service] integrity in the face of brands being commercialised in such a way?  Even if there are restrictions on how these brands are marketed and distributed it poses an interesting problem for the BBC to address.

This problem is not too dissimilar from the issue the BBC has with it’s content being distributed in peer-to-peer networks or even on third party platforms.  Research has shown that people viewing BBC content via Sky see it as  produced [and not just distributed] by Sky, with only ‘big’  brands  like Eastenders retaining their ‘BBCness’.  Likewise programmes removed from ‘traditional contexts’ of consumption – i.e. terrestrial  TV or analogue Radio to newer contexts where the BBC’s brand is disrupted such as proprietary EPGs on PVRs and media viewers like Real, Windows Media Player and the plethora of others that are springing up – poses a problem for the BBC.  How do they retain their visibility in the form of recollection and response rates by the audience when they have to justify their licence fee in years to come?

The BBC as a ‘brand’ is changing, not in some abstract sense but in the very ‘real’ way that people engage with BBC products on an everyday basis.  The ‘disruption’ between the brand and the product experience pose some fascinating problems for the BBC and other organisations involved in production and distribution [in what is kind of a oligopoly of vertical players] and seeing what’s happening at the edges of consumption offers insight into where marketing, branding and advertising will be headed in years to come.  Keep looking.

As an afterthought and as someone who has seen at first hand the chaos and the difficulty of trying to open up the broadcasting licencing model in the digital age I’m intrigued by how the BBC will look to ‘manage’ secondary rights and ‘futureproof’ the framework and the culture that grows up around them.  Broadcast rights were applied to much web content in the 1990s – so much so that deals would be struck per piece of content on a per page basis.  In the world of web 2.0 and XML dynamism, let alone Backstage style non-commercial re-use, that sort of model doesn’t work.  Unravelling that mess fell on some very forward thinking lawyers but the industry  [and particularly Equity] as a whole resisted and continues to resist moves to  other models. 

2 Comments
  1. Here’s a question: why does the BBC care that users who view its content via third parties don’t understand it as being produced by the BBC? Sure, from a politcal point of view, it’s good to have the license-fee payers feeling they get value for money. But as a true public service broadcaster, the aim should be to get the content out to a wide audience.

    If people are viewing and enjoying your content, then it doesn’t matter whether they give you credit or not.

  2. Sure Frankie – but how do you get credit? how do you show the government, the regulators [so far, the board of directors] that you are performing well? that matters – otherwise your ability to judge sucess is limited and if that is limited then your potental argument for more resources or other models is limited. and as an ex-producer, it’s kind of nice to get that recongition internally, as well as from your audience.

    and the brand is important to do the above, but also moving forward to enable a conversation with your audience. they need to know who to have a conversation with first!

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