New period dramas Banished and Wolf Hall may be drawing big audiences in the UK but Australian audiences will be forced to wait for them on BBC First.
Wolf Hall, starring Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, premiered in the UK in January. Averaging 4.4 million viewers it has become the biggest drama on BBC2 since 2002.
But it won’t premiere in Australia until Saturday April 11th, nearly four months after its UK launch.
Meanwhile colonial drama Banished, filmed in Australia with Russell Tovey and David Wenham, has also premiered to good numbers in the UK, scoring 3.4m viewers on BBC Two. Co-commissioned by BBC Two and BBC Worldwide Australia and New Zealand, it will not premiere here until June -three months after the UK.
These delays come despite BBC declaring the channel would offer “first, fast and uninterrupted” content to Australian subscribers.
A BBC First spokesperson told TV Tonight the channel has fast-tracked many shows including Call the Midwife, The Musketeers and Death in Paradise.
“Fast-tracking works best when it is an established show with a familiar proposition for the audience. With new shows we have found it is better to introduce audiences to the show with campaigns that build awareness and buzz in advance of the air date,” they said.
“All programming decisions are based on what is best for the show, the channel and the audience and are affected by a number of factors. Banished and Wolf Hall are big shows and a huge priority for BBC First, as such we wanted to give ourselves the time to make sure there is maximum awareness and excitement about the shows coming to the channel and to schedule them in a slot where we are confident they will do well.”
Allowing adequate time for promotion is often cited as reason for holding new titles in Pay Television, especially where materials are not readily available. But in the case of BBC titles, there are no ownership or access issues to materials owned by the BBC.
The delays also go against recent statements by Foxtel Executive Director Brian Walsh, “We are firmly of the view that Australians should be able to watch television with the rest of the world. It’s all about providing convenience. That’s the business we’re in.”
But BBC Worldwide Australia and New Zealand is under separate management to that of Foxtel, and sets its own programming schedule.
Meanwhile recent media articles on online piracy point towards programming delays as the key driver of illegal downloads.
Poldark has also premiered in the UK, but will screen in Australia on ABC.
“BBC First will continue to fast-track shows where we believe it is appropriate,” said a BBC spokesperson.