Sex, Please, We're British: BBC America Is Cable's Latest Darling, Serving Up Racy Comedy, Edgy Drama. (Special Report)

By Gremillion, Jeff | ADWEEK, June 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

Sex, Please, We're British: BBC America Is Cable's Latest Darling, Serving Up Racy Comedy, Edgy Drama. (Special Report)


Gremillion, Jeff, ADWEEK


Gary and Chanelle Delahoussayc of Lafayette, La., may not seem to fit your standard definition of "urbane." He's lawyer who golfs; she's a homemaker with a green thumb. They're more likely to turn up at a backyard crawfish boil than a trendy club. Yet, as avid viewers of BBC America, they're on the cutting edge of a TV trend.

Gary has joined the cult that religiously follows the sophisticated sitcoms Coupling and The Office. And Chanelle says she's "obsessed" with the net's home-improvement fare, especially the landscaping number Ground Force. "We can't get enough of these shows," she gushes. "We're hooked!"

And the Delahoussayes aren't alone. For starters, their dear friends, Shannon and Kimberly Gremillion--this reporter's own brother and sister-in-law, also young professionals in Lafayette-are big fans, too. Shannon howls as he recites lines of dialogue from the frequently rerun 40-minute sitcoms. And Kimberly endows the stars of ChangingRooms--the interior-design program that inspired the TLC phenom Trading Spaces--with something akin to rock-star status, imploring, "Can you ask them to come do my house?"

More notably, BBC America's subscriber base has grown from 28 million to 35 million in the past year, and on its best nights it competes with much larger channels like Bravo, E! and VH1

Its mix of provocative comedies, fashion-forward self-improvement fare, edgy dramas and news content with a unique international perspective--all told, the best of what it can borrow from mother channel BBC--has made the five-year-old outfit one of the fastest-growing little networks on cable.

CEO Paul Lee likes to brag that BBC America's ratings grew faster than those of any other non-news cable network in this year s first quarter-spiking 38 percent among 25- to 54-year-olds against last year's figures---to rank fifth overall. "We attract people who respond to something a little more original," says Lee. "We have a high concentration of successful, high-income, college-educated viewers." Lee adds that "exciting, energetic" advertisers like Volkswagen are tuning is as well, eager to be associated with the new BBC image.

BBC America owes its success thus far to prescient choices about how to build business--and audience. It made its debut in 1998, as cable operators nationwide were looking to fill out their new digital-basic packages. The BBC, which owns and provides all the content for the net, partnered with well positioned Discovery Networks for affiliate and advertising sales. "That has proven to be one of the best decisions we ever made," says Lee. At the time, Discovery made the best of the BBC brand-pushing the prestige factor--and BBC's global news-gathering resources.

"Originally, we considered BBC America a niche channel," says Mark Morrison, vp for Mediacom's eastern Iowa and northern Illinois region. "We felt its news would appeal to our large Indian population, and a certain group of highly educated older customers. …

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