THE BBC AND DISCOVERY have announced plans to demerge the UKTV channel network.
The 10 channel bouquet, born out of a joint venture with Thames Television 25 years ago, will become two separate networks, with Discovery taking control of the three factual channels and the BBC taking full control of the seven entertainment streams.
The deal, which we first reported as being in the pipeline last year, will see Auntie Beeb take control of UKTV for the first time in what is the biggest deal in its history.
When it evolved out of UK Gold in the late 90s, it was designed as a way to allow Auntie to increase its channel count with ad-based services, without interfering with the licence fee.
That seems a world away now, and today's announcement is based around the highly lucrative streaming market. As part of the deal, the BBC has signed a 10-year licensing deal for its factual content, which will be available on a new Discovery-branded streaming service to be launched next year.
The new streaming service will not be available in the UK, Ireland or China. The UK will retain the current streaming options, including the proposed Britbox joint venture with ITV. The demerged UKTV will continue to use Channel 4 and Sky to run its ad sales, to avoid getting mucky fingers.
The burgeoning streaming market has been a sore spot already, with cable carrier Virgin Media briefly removing UKTV from customers after a spat over VOD rights.
The channels remaining with the BBC are: Alibi, Dave, Drama, Eden, Gold, Yesterday and W. The BBC will also retain UKTV Play and the brand rights.
Discovery will take Really, Good Food and Home. This is slightly weird as Eden is a natural history channel that would have been more logical for the Discovery deal.
A joint working group from BBC Studios, the production arm of the corporation will work directly with Discovery on new content of the type that we've already seen extensively in the past, first run on the BBC.
As a public-service broadcaster, the BBC has to silo money from the TV Licence and keep it away from commercial investments. The UKTV solution, which made a £90m profit last year, combined with overseas ad-supported BBC branded channels has allowed Auntie to stipend the licence fee which is coming under increasing pressure as audiences become increasingly fragmented but costs grow.
The BBC has warned that it will be forced to cut services if, as expected, the government recommends that it shoulders the cost of retaining the free TV licencing for over-75s as well as funding minority channels such as S4C, BBC Alba, BBC Parliament and the new BBC Scotland.
By necessity, the BBC's digital operation is complex. UK channels are not available overseas, and when they are simulcast, UK users see filler content. BBC Three, BBC iPlayer and UKTV Play are UK exclusive, while Britbox is already available in the US.
Radio channels, though licence funded, aren't subject to the same restrictions and so the new BBC Sounds app works worldwide. It's all very bewildering.
BBC America, on the other hand is now a production house in its own right, leading to shows funded by commercial money, like the multi-award winning Killing Eve, which is commissioned in the US but made in the UK, confusing the heck out of the BAFTA selection committee as to whether they are indeed British.
It's not known if the UKTV deal will involve the channels being rebranded as "BBC". In the original proposals from the late nineties, UK Gold (now Gold), for example, would have been rebranded BBC Gold, however, the fact that the UKTV brand is being retained by Auntie suggests it values the separate moniker. μ
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