Why is BBC First so slow at fast-tracking?

BBC First has some of TV's best shows -but boy they keep us waiting. Why?

In the world of Subscription Television fast-tracking is one of the most important features for viewers. When you are paying for premium entertainment it’s a reasonable transaction that you shouldn’t be kept waiting unnecessarily for your TV.

Uber-hot titles like Game of Thrones screen not only same day, but same time as the US. On Foxtel owned & operated channels profile shows are generally fast-tracked, although more niche titles can be still be delayed.

But BBC First, which includes profile titles such as Taboo, Victoria, Top of the Lake, Peaky Blinders and The Night Manager is more selective about which shows get the fast-tracking treatment as these samples indicate:

Doctor Foster: October 31
UK: September

Born to Kill Sept 11
UK: April

Three Girls Oct 12
UK: May

Top of the Lake Aug 20
UK: July

Paula Aug 2
UK: May

Decline & Fall Aug 12
UK: March

Broken July 9
UK: June

The Replacement June 26
UK: February

Guerrilla June 18
UK: April

Apple Tree Yard June 11
UK: January

Maigret June 1
UK: April

Taboo July 17
UK: January

Tim Christlieb, Director of Branded Services, BBC Worldwide Australia and NZ told TV Tonight the “first” in BBC First nodded to first-run content for Australians, said but timings were dependent on a variety of factors, with the aim of launching to the largest audience possible.

“The overall shape of the schedule, other titles in the current programming mix, licensing periods, resources and time to effectively market a series are all factors,” he said.

“Since the launch of BBC First our programming strategy has evolved as we have seen what works best for our audiences. Where we feel there will be a strong audience demand for new series of established and familiar brands then we fast-track (defined as within 48 hours) or go closer to UK transmission.

“For example, the Christmas special of Call the Midwife will be fast-tracked with the new series shown within a week of UK broadcast. The new series of Death in Paradise will also be fast-tracked. The second series of Victoria currently on air is showing eight days after its UK broadcast.”

But in recent months it appears nothing has aired within 48 hours.

The Pay TV sector has previously outlined that fast-tracking of established brands is more practical than new titles which require ample audience promotion. Having full access to materials ahead of premieres is not always possible from international partners.

BBC Worldwide didn’t detail if it has full access to BBC materials ahead of premiere.

Christlieb says Taboo was deliberately delayed to screen it alongside Game of Thrones, aiming for a similar audience.

“The decision to delay Taboo in order to allow us to simulcast first episode on Showcase after Game of Thrones has unquestionably allowed a broader audience to discover and enjoy the show. Year to date it is the second highest rating show on BBC First behind Top of the Lake: China Girl.

21 Responses

    1. Because BBC content being available world-wide direct from the BBC (a) upset their international partners & distributors & partners, in particular AMC (who own half of BBC America) & the cable operators that carry it; and (b) offended the Tories who want to starve the BBC while simultaneously wrapping themselves in a “BBC for UK” flag…

  1. Thanks for shining a light on this, David. BBC First is incredibly disappointing. I grew up in an ABC, Brit watching household and now I’d say approx 2/3 of the content I watch is BBC/ITV/C4. I’d definitely subscribe if they guaranteed everything was fast tracked, but as it is what’s the point? I’m not waiting 6 months for anything, that’s ridiculous (and the selection of shows isn’t even that comprehensive). It’s sad, consumers aren’t that hard to please.

    Not related to BBC First, but I was wondering if you knew what the current situation is with The Americans David? I usually buy the seasons on iTunes – I think they would appear after airing on FTA rather than the original Foxtel airing, but I don’t think s4 was ever aired on FTA. Who even has the rights right now? S1-3 are available to buy, but we’re 2 seasons behind the States. It’s so frustrating!

      1. Yes, but it only seems to be released on iTunes once it has aired on FTA, which doesn’t seem to be happening anymore, hence S1-3 only being available. Same goes for the DVDs. I don’t understand why this is – Showcase has, as you said, aired s5 so I don’t see why it can’t be released to purchase online. There must be a rights issue which is why I was asking about the FTA status.

  2. Linear programming strategies on Pay TV are just plain silly. Thinking that “clever scheduling” can effect ratings is just hubris.
    Their words speak of the effort to deliver great programming to viewers as a subscription service, but their actions demonstrate the effort to deliver a large audience to advertisers as a commercial service.

  3. I like B.B.C first,but it is slow to screen these shows,as David pointed out with the many examples he cited.For example there’s no excuse to screen a show like Taboo six months after it went to air in the U.K.Even the free to air channels are better,generally,at fast tracking overseas shows these days.

  4. So, lemme get this straight: Aunty airs Doctor Who same day and has both Grantchester and Poldark on the “same week” and Fearless within a few weeks [sure those last 3 are BBCW/ITV SVOD releases], meanwhile BBC First has an exclusive airing buffer and “we’ll show Australia the “best content Britain has to offer” when we feel like it”. This just makes a mockery of BBC First.

  5. In April 2013 in the press release for the launch of BBC First, BBC (or possibly Foxtel as the quote isn’t explicitly owned) said BBC First would air programs “as close to UK transmission as possible”. I can understand if you have to make strategic decisions as to which programs are fast tracked and when exactly that is, but if that is the case don’t go promising something you’re not going to do.

  6. “The overall shape of the schedule, other titles in the current programming mix, licensing periods, resources and time to effectively market a series are all factors,” he said.

    If Netflix and HBO can both globally launch shows at exactly the same date and time, so can the BBC.

    I’ve cancelled my foxtel and fetch tv subscriptions because of things like this and if I do enable it again it’s only for sport.

    With a $5/month smart DNS or VPN subscription I can watch it direct from the BBC in the UK and doing so is not illegal under Australian law.

    Plus I get to watch shows I like that will never been shown in Australia, such as the apprentice, watchdog and wanted down under <= which oddly is about Australia and shot in Australia.

  7. Because Australian cable viewers are completely different audience on the other side of the planet from UK BBC licence payers. The idea that GOT viewers in Australia were going to watch Taboo because it was on at the same time was crazy. But it doesn’t matter when they put Taboo on, it just isn’t going to be watched by many Australians.

  8. I don’t watch much bbc first so while watching season 2 of top of the lake and it being set in Australia I just assumed it was first run in Australia. I went online a few days ago to see some reaction to last sundays episode and found all these reviews of the final episode. I was surprised but ended up reading some spoilers.

    I’m not sure what to make of top of the lake. I find it weird, not sure I like it all that much but I can’t seem to stop watching.

  9. BBC First is a business like any other. New products take time to gain public interest and delaying their release will maximise sales. It’s not as if Joe Public will pay $10 for a VPN and watch the new product on a catch-up service or open a sea-chest and unfurl the skull and crossbones.
    “QF1 is now arriving at gate 5. Will those people expecting a flash drive from a crew member please form an orderly queue behind the Qantas staff benevolent fund donation box”.

    1. “It’s not as if Joe Public will pay $10 for a VPN and watch the new product on a catch-up service or open a sea-chest and unfurl the skull and crossbones.”

      Obviously you’ve not had much to do with “Joe Public”.

      Take a look at just about anyone’s laptop, and that includes my generation and older not just the kiddies, and it’s packed full of downloaded TV shows. Its not at all unusual for the kids to set up their parents computers to automatically download shows for them. I think the only age group of people that aren’t ‘pirating’ to a good degree is 80+. Only last week I had a laptop in for repair for a couple of grey nomads, and you guessed correctly, it was full of TV shows.

      Read just about any forum that has anything to do with TV shows and it’s abundantly clear that ‘piracy’ is rife and you don’t have to pay $10 a month for a VPN to do it either. There’s…

  10. There was an interesting article a while ago on one of the US trade websites (B&C?) that had some interesting observations about the value of fast-tracking.

    As mentioned above it was most effective with established high-raters; lesser shows only got a minor lift, or even a loss. Lifts dropped off very quickly with delay (~12 hours seemed to be the break-even point); flip side was losses fell more slowly (the break-even point seemed to be ~48hrs) but in the long run didn’t affect ratings much – the further you got from the initial bad buzz, the more likely people were to give it a go & decide for themselves.

    Either way, fast-tracking didn’t have as much effect on “alternative means” as broadcast time in the second market – if it wasn’t on in prime-time, most pirates would still pirate anyway.

    Food for thought there…

  11. Snooze you lose. It is 2017, there is no point waiting because it is a good time to market it. The BBC First audience will be older so there will be less of an appetite to seek it elsewhere, but still not enough of a reason. We aren’t an island anymore, there is zero excuse not to go same day.

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