Discovery and the BBC are swimming off into the wild together again with a landmark agreement that includes a ten-year programming partnership to power a global SVOD service, a significant development arrangement and the division of assets at UK broadcaster UKTV.
This comes six years after Discovery and the BBC ended its previous partnership; the two companies previously worked together on shows such as Frozen Planet and Blue Planet but ended the arrangement in 2013, which lead to BBC America becoming the BBC’s U.S. partner on a number of its landmark natural history series in the last five years.
The new deal, which is effective in all territories outside of the UK, Ireland and China, makes Discovery the exclusive SVOD home of BBC natural history series including titles such as Planet Earth, Blue Planet, Life and Dynasties as well as future BBC-commissioned landmark series from BBC Studios. The agreement also covers hundreds of hours of library factual content, all of which will power Discovery’s forthcoming global streaming service, which is set to launch by 2020.
Discovery and BBC Studios will also co-fund a dedicated development team at the British production division of the public broadcaster to create new blue-chip wildlife series. This comes after Discovery ordered wildlife conservation documentary The Red List from BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit. The show, which is produced and directed by Steve Greenwood and focuses on conservationists around the world, was BBC Studios’ first non-BBC-commissioned title after it was spun off into a commercial division last year.
Finally, the deal sees the two companies finally come to an agreement on the future of UKTV. Discovery became a co-owner of the broadcaster, which operates ten channel brands, when it bought Scripps last year. The deal to cut up the broadcaster is expected to be complete in late spring 2019.
Discovery will take full control of lifestyle channels Good Food, Home and Really and will add it to its existing portfolio of 16 channels in the UK. Discovery’s UK chief James Gibbons will oversee the channels.
Meanwhile, BBC Studios has acquired the other seven channels including Flack co-producer W, Alibi, Dave, Drama, Eden, Gold and Yesterday as well as digital service UKTV Play. These channels are most closely connected to BBC content. Marcus Arthur, President, UK, Ireland & ANZ, BBC Studios Distribution will become CEO of UKTV following the completion of the deal, replacing Darren Childs, who stepped down earlier this year after eight years in charge.
BBC Studios will pay £173M to Discovery for the majority of UKTV channels, which includes a balancing payment in relation to the channels acquisition and the assumption of £70m of debt, currently financed by Discovery. This will be financed through existing borrowing facilities. Discovery will also receive at least an additional £10m from UKTV, as the parties will share the existing cash on the company’s balance sheet, reflecting outstanding dividend, and other ancillary value transfers to Discovery through the transaction. BBC Studios and Discovery have also agreed to a short-term programming team for the supply of BBC Studios lifestyle content to Discovery’s UKTV channels in the UK.
Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav said, “As the two market leaders in landmark natural history and iconic factual programming, Tony 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.”
“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,” he added.
BBC Director-General Tony Hall added, “The BBC makes outstanding natural history and science programmes. They are ground-breaking and demonstrate the quality and depth of our know-how. It is vital that we keep investing and growing them for the future. This is our largest ever content sales deal. It will mean BBC Studios and Discovery will work together to take our content right across the globe through a new world-beating streaming service. Global subscribers are in for a real treat: the best content on a great new platform. 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.”