Discovery, Inc. and BBC Studios have announced a series of agreements, including the future of UKTV.

A viewing room at the UKTV HQ.

“As the two market leaders in landmark natural history and iconic factual programming, Tony Hall and I look forward to working together again – our teams represent over 100 years of combined experience. Discovery will be taking that expertise and creating the definitive global streaming product for curious and passionate viewers of all generations who want the most trusted, family friendly storytelling in the world.” – David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery

A new decade long content partnership, effective in all territories outside the UK, Ireland and Greater China, will make Discovery the exclusive global home of BBC landmark natural history programmes including the Planet Earth, Blue Planet and Life collection of titles, the recently lauded Dynasties and others, as well as future Beeb-commissioned landmark series from BBC Studios, following their linear transmission.

Discovery also acquires rights to hundreds of hours of BBC programming across factual genres. All of this iconic content will form one of the pillars of a new global streaming service, which will also include some of the best of Discovery’s programming library, original content created for the service, and experiences and offerings that go well beyond video. The service will launch by 2020 and will form a key part of Discovery’s unique and growing portfolio of direct-to-consumer services that will enable fans to ‘view and do.’ These services will also be made available to distribution partners for retail.

Discovery and BBC Studios have also signed a bespoke development deal to create new landmark factual content for Discovery that furthers audiences’ discovery of the world for both linear and digital distribution. This deal reunites the two media and entertainment brands that worked together on unrivalled natural history series such as Planet Earth, Walking with Dinosaurs, Life and Blue Planet. The two companies will co-fund a dedicated development team within BBC Studios.

“From the planets to the poles, and documenting every species in between, the world has always been part of Discovery’s DNA. It is who we are. Telling these stories is our mission and it is more important now than ever before. The new platform will be the first global direct-to-consumer service with the category’s most iconic IP including the Planet Earth series, future sequels and spin-offs to all existing landmark series, and new exclusive natural history and science programming coming in the future. There is tremendous value in the marketplace for these programming categories which have broad appeal and strong multi-generational engagement, and we hope to fill the void in the global marketplace for a dedicated high quality product.” – David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery

Discovery is to take BBC Studios’ landmark natural history programmes to a global audience.

“The BBC strengthening its ties with UKTV’s channels while also offering its factual programming library to Discovery looks like a win-win for consumers. The game-changing impact of subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over the past few years has forced traditional broadcasters to be more imaginative, and this is a significant financial commitment – the largest deal in the BBC’s history. The UKTV portfolio has quietly become a very popular draw among TV watchers, as shown by the staring contest between UKTV and Virgin Media at the end of last year, and it is also increasingly profitable, so this looks like a smart move for the BBC. Apple only last week waded into the streaming market, and Disney is set to debut its own platform this year, so controlling original content is more crucial than ever.” – Dani Warner, TV expert at uSwitch.com

The deal also sees UKTV split up. Expected to complete in late Spring 2019, Discovery will take full control of lifestyle channels Good Food, Home and Really, in line with its editorial strategy. Discovery has an existing portfolio of 16 channels in the UK including Discovery Channel, TLC, ID, Animal Planet, Eurosport, Quest and Quest Red and the Quest OD video-on-demand service.

BBC Studios acquires the remaining seven channels – Alibi, Dave, Drama, Eden, Gold, Yesterday and W – along with digital player UKTV Play, and the UKTV brand. These channels are the most closely aligned to its own content strategy and supply, with Beeb programmes currently delivering around half the viewing for these seven channels, and accounting for around 95% of BBC Studios’ content on UKTV today.

Following these changes, the entertainment channels will continue to operate under the UKTV brand out of UKTV’s offices and BBC Studios will look to grow investment into UK programming, including original content, for the channels it will own. As part of the UKTV agreement, BBC Studios will make payments totalling £173m to Discovery. This includes a balancing payment in relation to the channels acquisition and the assumption of £70m of debt, currently financed by Discovery.

“This is brilliant news for audiences here as it will enable the BBC to invest even more in factual programming for them. That’s also why BBC Studios taking control of the UKTV channels that best fit our programmes is good news. It means a secure future with long-term commercial returns. The UKTV team has done a fantastic job and I am delighted that will continue.” – Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC

BBC HQ, Broadcasting House.
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