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The Five Spot: Chris Davies, EVP of Marketing and Distribution, BBC Global News

Chris Davies
Chris Davies (Image credit: BBC)

Chris Davies is the executive responsible for overseeing the marketing, audience insights and distribution divisions for BBC World News and BBC.com. The BBC World News 24-hour channel, and programs such as BBC World News America, distributed to PBS stations, have seen gains in the United States that led to 32.5 million weekly viewers, up 50% year over year, according to the U.K.-based broadcaster. BBC World News reaches 112 million viewers worldwide, part of a massive audience of 438.4 million accessing BBC News weekly. Davies, based in London, joined BBC Worldwide in November 2010, coming from British Airways, where he was head of digital marketing. He chatted with B+C content director Kent Gibbons about BBC World News and news consumption trends in general. 

BBC World News has been growing in the U.S., but can that continue with the problems for networks of cord-cutting? To be honest, I think live news TV is relatively resilient, because people want to be able to access a live news channel on a TV when they need it, at that particular moment. There are certain parts of the industry that will probably be affected more by cord-cutting and catch-up TV and OTT. But for us, as a live news service, it’s additive at the moment rather than reductive. 

That leads to my second question, which is, where have you been gaining U.S. subscribers and viewers? What are the platforms that are doing that for you? We’ve seen a big spike and increase in audiences across PBS, to start with. We also saw a 50% increase in audiences basically across all TV, so that's PBS and our own channel, in the last year. A lot is down to the news cycle. The coronavirus story has been huge for everybody, of course, and we saw internally record upon record for audience numbers. The really good news for us is that, if you compare our situation now versus the situation last year, we’re still holding on to that big spike of audience.

Are any new programs on the channel especially clicking with viewers? Well, we have been really pushing Outside Source, which is a program which PBS takes and is also on BBC World News. Basically, Ros Atkins is standing in front of a live TV screen, showing stories as they come up on social media and discussing them. That show's proven very popular. And we’ve recently redesigned and rebooted our Washington bureau. It looks fantastic. We’ve got BBC News with Katty [Kay] and Christian [Fraser], which is looking really smart. 

Katty Kay

Shows like a rebooted BBC News with Katty Kay (pictured) are helping Chris Davies build up U.S. audiences.  (Image credit: BBC News)

The U.S. elections: Has that been good for distribution and viewing of your channel? We are seeing lots of global interest in it. It’s a huge story that everyone's interested in, wherever you are.

In the U.S., you’re growing, but not at a mega level. Is it still a good
U.S. business for you, this channel?
Yeah, it absolutely is. It obviously isn’t
as big as the CNNs and the Fox Newses, we all know that. But it performs a unique role. What's really good for a U.S. audience is to have the option to come to an impartial news service that has a global perspective, that tells a story that you can make your own mind up about. Backed up, then, with really good distribution by PBS. And then of course, we’ve got our website, bbc.com. We’re doing a whole lot of podcasts. Put it all together, it's actually quite a good reach story across all of our different platforms.

Bonus Five

What current TV shows are on your DVR? If that includes SVOD then I’m just finishing Ozark and onto AMC’s The Terror.

All-time favorite TV show? Band of Brothers

Which apps do you use the most? Naturally the BBC News app!

What books are on your nightstand? I’ve just started Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Tell us about a recent memorable meal — where and what did you eat? My first post-lockdown meal treat was at the excellent Gymkhana restaurant in Mayfair, London.