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BBC America's Ancier: DVR Threat Must Be Solved

NEW YORK—The ability for viewers to fast-forward through ads using a DVR is the biggest challenge cable programmers face—and they must work with operators to figure out a solution, Garth Ancier, president of BBC Worldwide America, said in a keynote at the Future of Television conference here.

“Commercial-skipping is severely threatening the economic model,” Ancier (pictured) said. “This is our biggest challenge…and this is frankly what is killing the broadcast networks as we speak.”

BBC America, distributed to 63 million homes in the U.S., has an upscale audience that disproportionately uses time-shifting services like digital video recorders and video-on-demand, according to Garth. He noted that 65% of BBC America’s audience has watched Top Gear on DVR.

While some industry research has indicated DVR viewers watch half of all ads in a recorded program, Ancier said he’s never seen that. “We’ve seen more like 30% of people watching our commercials on DVR, if that.”

Because BBC America is in the position of “being the most DVR’d network,” it has to work with Comcast and other operators to figure out how to insert commercials that are timely and relevant, and then determine an agreeable ad-revenue split, Ancier said.

Comcast, for example, is moving VOD “from a sort of antiquated headend basis to two server farms that will serve the entire country, in which there will be thousands of hours of VOD with dynamic ad insertion,” Ancier said. “What I love about that is…the idea that we can feed that to you without you touching your DVR settings.”

Asked about how he envisions the relationship with cable operators evolving, Ancier replied: “I actually love having a relationship with MSOs directly, because you get so much insight into where they think television is going.” He also noted, “I’m probably alone in saying this, so record it and send it back to [Comcast chief operating officer] Steve Burke.”

As for Internet video distribution, Ancier unequivocally said he believes it’s additive to the overall viewing audience.

“Many people fear cannibalization of content. I disagree. It’s about popularization,” he said. “There’s no way to turn this clock back.”

Americans still watch more than 57 hours of linear television per week, even if three-fourths are also watching video online. “We have no reason to believe these audiences are being cannibalized,” Ancier said.

In a multiplatform world, he said, “channels are critical. They’re the organizing principle, the editorial voice for consumers to find content. Schedule is obviously becoming less and less important…but in this new world, the channel becomes the sum of all these different screens.”

"After listening to the panels today, you may think that linear guys like me are an endangered species," Ancier said in his opening remarks. "You might be right. But endangered species evolve.”