Why Australia is an important market for BBC Studios

‘There is a big connection in terms of sensibility between Australia and UK,’ says director of scripted content Liam Keelan.

Australia’s historical ties and cultural similarities with Britain make it a very important market for BBC Studios’ scripted content.

The organisation’s director of scripted (drama, comedy and children) content, Liam Keelan, was recently in Sydney to promote BBC First Australia’s offerings for 2019.

“I am responsible for the investments that go into those genres,” Keelan told Mediaweek. “There is a big connection in terms of sensibility between Australia and UK. They are very like-minded in terms of the drama they want and their need for quality.”

Some popular shows to come from BBC Studios that fall under Keelan’s remit include Call The Midwife, Luther and Doctor Who. A fundamental part of his job is reading scripts and watching previews before they go to air.

“I am also having conversations with writers about ideas for dramas and how they see them developing,” he said. Therefore, Keelan has inherently become a master at keeping secrets to ensure no spoilers get leaked. This is particularly the case for shows like Luther and Doctor Who, which have a massive fan following. “They want to know every detail about the show. You have to keep mum at all times,” Keelan said.

In a recent showcase event, BBC Studios claimed to be the biggest producer of drama in UK, accounting for 47% of drama commissioned across free-to-air, pay TV and SVOD. “Our investment via studios has doubled in the past few years,” Keelan said. “This is a positive message in a very competitive environment.”

Being a public broadcaster, the BBC’s mission is “to enrich people’s lives with programs and services that inform, educate and entertain”.

Therefore, the increased investment in dramas is justified, Keelan said.

“It’s one of the things that the audience really, really cares about. If you look at the things the BBC is known for internationally, top of the list would be its news provision. Then second to that is drama. People really, really care about the provision of drama and that it is providing something innovative. It’s got a range of different dramas and that is giving a platform to different voices.”

The appetite for quality drama is increasing around the world, and this is partly because of the ease of access viewers now have to international programs.

“UK drama is more popular now than it has ever been,” Keelan said.

The BBC’s slate of new and old dramas is colossal so the scheduling decisions for BBC First Australia are tough. However, the schedule for shows to air locally is made keeping a few things in mind. “It’s about tailoring it for a premium audience that is a slightly older and upmarket demographic. They want event dramas, so things like Les Misérables or The Little Drummer Girl are very important.”

BBC is also looking for opportunities to produce more Australia-related dramas such as Top Of The Lake and Banished.

“That is something that we are constantly looking at, especially because there is a strong connection between the two countries,” Keelan said.

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