BBC Studios Global Distribution CEO Explains Why ‘Super Serving Audiences’ Is the Bottom Line

·8 min read

Rebecca Glashow, BBC Studios’ CEO of global distribution, has worked with many leading media brands that do many different things. In Demand, Comcast, Discovery, Viacom — the common thread between them all is the push to deliver “content that matters, to connect with people, no matter what part of the food chain you sit in,” Glashow told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View.

Distribution, monetization, advertising — none of the moneymaking arenas within the entertainment industry matter if a company isn’t first and foremost putting out titles that resonate with viewers. It’s why, above all else, Glashow believes her main job requirement is to “super serve audiences” with a diverse array of impactful programming.

That perspective comes from a place of deep passion for storytelling instilled in her by her Nobel Prize-winning particle physicist father Sheldon Glashow.

Instead of lectures about fermions and bosons (both real words — I checked), the most important lesson Glashow took from him is to follow your passion. Between devouring an eclectic mix of movie genres as a child to marathoning the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy during snowy Christmases alone in her early-career New York City apartments, Glashow has always been enamored with the magic of entertainment — and the strategy behind it.

“I belong in an industry where I’m super passionate about the content and I’m surrounded by people who are equally excited and passionate, and I can be as creatively adjacent as any commercial person could be,” she said.

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At BBC, Glashow is navigating through yet another industry metamorphosis as the embryonic streaming era gives way to a mature, fragmented and absurdly crowded market. Here, she believes the company has become a “quiet giant” thanks to its volume of programming disseminated across a number of platforms and companies.

In speaking with TheWrap, she reveals how crucial flexibility is in today’s industry, why strategic partnerships are integral to BBC’s future and how the well-positioned company plans to continue evolving.

The below conversation has been edited for style and length.

You’ve worked at a lot of different companies that do a lot of different things. What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the entertainment industry as a result?
I always saw it as what is happening next in the industry and really being on the bleeding edge of that. In Demand was the advent of streaming video, ultimately. And being at Comcast was launching interactive products and launching on demand, collapsing of the windows and being there to help define that. And then, going to Discovery was launching digital businesses inside of a traditional media company.

The most interesting thing to me is the journey to the customer. It’s all about serving audiences and serving fans, and the various journeys to get there. It’s taken this industry a long time to finally realize what we’re here to do, which is just super serve audiences and deliver to all of us during high times, good times, bad times what really connects us and keeps us energized and optimistic.

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BBC has long produced global content from all over the world. Now that every major entertainment company is looking to do the same, how does BBC differentiate itself?
We’ve anchored ourselves in a few genres that you can try to replicate. But ultimately, the quality we deliver is sort of un-replicated and that’s a bit because of the heart of what we’re doing — which is being a public service brand.

I would argue we still very much own many genres, especially in the factual space. To have a dedicated unit that is delivering science programming to delivering “Natural History,” that is really breaking the mold with things like “Prehistoric Planet” that nobody else could have done because their talent would never have come to pull something like that off if it wasn’t ultimately for the BBC.

In quality British drama, we are at the forefront in diverse voices because we’re here to really serve all of the U.K. and all global audiences. We have a purpose behind that diversity in our programming. And because we’re not ad-funded at our heart, we’re not chasing certain number of episodes or chasing a rating or chasing an advertiser. That does give us a certain level of creative freedom.

Hatzegopteryx shown in “Prehistoric Planet,” now streaming on Apple TV+. (Apple TV+)
Hatzegopteryx shown in “Prehistoric Planet,” now streaming on Apple TV+. (Apple TV+)

BBC Studios does a bit of everything in digital from BBC Select, Brit Box, FAST channels, Crackle, BBC American and licensing content outwards. Is there ever any consideration to consolidating some of these efforts or does BBC like being flexible at all these different intervals of the content monetization process?
We are a huge party. I would say we’re a quiet giant. We really produce an enormous amount of content.

We’ve got these incredibly dominant genres, but also brands and IPs that we’ve put out into the ecosystem. That makes us a great supplier. We’ve taken advantage of that. You’ve seen our earnings — we’ve really grown as the streamers compete for quality content because of our brand, because we deliver a distinct voice. And so that part of our business is fast growing and we have placed some bets over time.

I think we have a distinct play in this market to do both. We have 1,500 titles that we sell into this market a year and that’s just scratching the surface because it doesn’t include library and FAST channels. So we are a huge distributor and we are a powerful brand and I think we have the opportunity to do both.

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BBC reported record financial growth in July and BBC Studios CEO Tom Fussell talked up the freedom this allowed to invest in future growth. What are some of those strategies?
I think one of our most distinctive elements is we’ve always been about delivering global audiences. We have channels around the world under our BBC brand. You mentioned BBC America, we have BBC First, dozens of BBC Earth. So we have already been delivering to audiences around the world and we know how to. As the streaming wars heat up, we are able to really bring in audiences that are additive and not just in North America, but around the world. So I think this has given us a huge opportunity.

I think because we cut across so many genres, again back to audiences, we can serve so many audiences. Yes, there’s a lot of copycats, but no one can beat the access that BBC provides and the patience to deliver something like a “Natural History,” which takes years and years and years. The appetite and patience to be able to deliver on that is what’s delivering the growth.

“Dancing With the Stars” is moving from ABC to Disney+. (ABC/Eric McCandless)
“Dancing With the Stars” is moving from ABC to Disney+. (ABC/Eric McCandless)

How does BBC nurture and grow IP that is connecting, whether that be a “Bluey,” “Doctor Who” or something else?
Partnerships are at the heart of what we do because outside the U.S., we don’t have the scale platforms that other people might have. So we really rely on great partnerships, whether it be through channel partnerships or now streaming to really amplify and for us to bring our golden touch and have their really commercial expertise or reach.

“Bluey” is a partnership — Disney is the platform and we manage consumer products. It’s an incredible mutual love for the brand around the world. We are very thoughtful about all of our partnerships, because editorial control is the most valuable asset we have. But there might be cases where partners are able to amplify something in a way we can’t because we don’t have those platforms.

Speaking of partnerships, BBC has already said it’s on board with Disney moving “Dancing With the Stars,” which your company produces, from ABC to Disney+. Do you see that as a viable strategy for any other of your linear hits?
I think we always work collaboratively with the partner on how best we’re going to serve the audience. Ultimately, that was a mutual decision that both sides are excited about. I think it’s a case-by-case basis with any show, though. We want to make sure things reach the maximum audiences and have the longest chance of survival in the market. And I think that’s always a collaboration with our partners to make those decisions.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing content providers such as the BBC?
Cutting through. There’s a lot of choices and I don’t just mean content choices. I spent a long time at a company servicing digital native audiences and you are competing for people’s time. I think quality does matter. I don’t think it’s a quantity game. I think it is really about delivering a brand promise and delivering something that really emotionally connects.

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