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U.S. Version of ‘BBC News’ Debuts

Sep 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

International advertisers will be there for the launch of “BBC World News America.” So will some domestic advertisers willing to bet on a bespoke and well-traveled nightly newscast that will be available in more than 53 million cable and satellite homes.
The question is who among the U.S. TV audience will be there at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1, for the premiere of BBC’s “U.S.-facing” hour of domestic and international news. BBC America President Garth Ancier believes the newscast’s audience will be the “upscale, world-savvy news viewer” who feels he is not getting all he wants from the current domestic options, which include the Big Three broadcast networks’ newscasts and three 24-hour cable news channels.
The BBC aims to make a splash with the show’s debut broadcast, booking First Lady Laura Bush and former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto for interviews with anchor Matt Frei.
Mr. Ancier, the former chairman of The WB, is quick to say he’s not knocking national TV news purveyors. The well-traveled entertainment executive, who served a stint as a Turner Broadcasting System executive focused on programming and branding at CNN, can tick off everything said by everyone on every Sunday morning current affairs show.
When he was tapped to beef up the BBC’s U.S. presence in February, he knew the first big item on his to-do list would be to create a showcase for what he calls “the heart and soul of the company.”
He hired Katie Couric’s former “CBS Evening News” executive producer, Rome Hartman, to run “BBC World News America,” whose launch is timed to take advantage of the 2008 elections, when voters might be particularly interested in how the world sees America.
It is, Mr. Ancier said, the most costly undertaking in BBC America’s nine-year history. The company will repurpose material from “BBC World News America” into the 10 p.m. nightly newscast billed as “World News Today” and a news hour produced for the BBC World News channel, helping to amortize the costs of the new program.
Early advertising inventory is selling out largely to internationally known entities such as Credit Suisse. Mr. Ancier said he actually turned away some (unnamed) domestic advertisers he felt weren’t compatible with the BBC’s brand.
The advertisers in the program will place their spots in a melange of reporting, interviews and round-table discussions on the U.S. news of the day. The show also will include packages from BBC correspondents around the world. The stirring democracy demonstrations in Burma and the floods in Uganda were used in those shows’ rehearsals.
The U.S. portions of the newscast will be produced in the BBC studios in Washington and transmitted to London, where the international elements are added. Then the news will be fed back to U.S. viewers.
The circuitous process means “BBC World News America” executive producer Mr. Hartman, a longtime “60 Minutes” producer, and his senior producers must have all their editorial and technical ducks in a row.
TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall, who runs the Tyndall Report, wonders if the BBC will be undercutting its own brand with a newscast targeting Americans. He thinks one of the chief strengths of the BBC News programming already available in this country is that it doesn’t have an American focus.
“It’s not so much that it’s a British take as that it’s a non-American take,” he said. “I can’t see how that strength is improved by having an American-based newscast.”
Mr. Hartman, however, said he believes the BBC’s global deployment and vision, coming at a time when American news organizations “are less capable and/or less interested” in delivering international news, will fill an unmet need.
“This is a time in not just America’s history when people do need to know what’s going on in the world,” he said.

16 Comments

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