BBC America Gets Its Own Sales Force

Q&A: Senior VP Mark Gall on Selling U.K. Shows in the U.S.

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- By its very nature of being a dual news-and-entertainment network dedicated to British programming, BBC America has always stood out from the rest of the networks in the Discovery stable. It's a news network in the morning and an entertainment network later in the day, airing everything from Brit soaps such as "Hotel Babylon" and "Hollyoaks" as well as quirky reality fare "Top Gear" and "The Naked Chef."
Mark Gall
Mark Gall

Now, after nine years and distribution in nearly 60 million homes, the network has its first dedicated sales team, having been sold under the Discovery umbrella previously. The in-house switch will go into full effect on April 1, 2008.

Heading up the new group is Mark Gall, who as senior VP-BBC America and BBC Digital Media Sales, will oversee all ad sales across the BBC's cable and digital platforms, including BBC.com, which became ad-supported for users from outside the U.K. on Nov. 5. The site reaches 10 million unique users a month, according to ComScore, and is the fifth most popular online broadcast news site in the U.S.

Mr. Gall was appointed by BBC America President Garth Ancier, who said of the new sales team, "Now that we present a wider proposition for advertisers, it's time to fully leverage a standalone sales team dedicated to the BBC brand." Mr. Gall would seem to have a suitable background for BBC America's mix of nonfiction and entertainment programming. His most recent gig was at the Weather Channel, where he served as a senior VP-integrated platform sales since 2003, and he has also sold ads for WGN Superstation, CNN and Discovery Communications.

Several weeks into his new role, Mr. Gall spoke with Ad Age about his plans for expanding the BBC brand to U.S. audiences, how viewers interact with BBC content throughout the day and why he considers the audience profile of his new viewer to be "ex-pats from around the world."

MediaWorks: As someone who has experience in sales for major multiplatform TV brands like the Weather Channel and CNN, where do you see the ad model for selling news-based programming across platforms going in the near future?

Mark Gall: If you look across platforms, news programming does a lot better than other genres. It's lean-forward in manner vs. the laidback programming in other genres. Viewers are more engaged with the programming and commercial messages, and it also tends to have shorter ad breaks. Five or six messages per pod is a lot better place to be in if you have 14 [messages]. Even if you have a five-minute commercial break [in entertienment programming], if you're the C, D or F in that commercial pod, you're less likely to be seen. If the viewer is watching the programming and it goes to a commercial pod and the viewer walks out of the room, they don't see the ad and can't recall the ad. News viewers tend not to skip out. Similarly, if you're engaged with news programming and see a customer's commercial message on the [channel's] sibling website, one plus one equals three. Their engagement is much higher when you're using the two brands together.

MediaWorks: Given that BBC is an entertainment network as well, and one that focuses on bringing British programming to American audiences, what interesting viewing habits are you learning about your new audience?

Mr. Gall: We have the best of British programming, so that includes all BBC content but that also means ITV and Sky. It's getting the best hits in the U.K. and then bringing them over to the States. And 25% is news and documentary. Our viewers start the day from 6 to 9 in the morning with world news, then goes off to work and follow us to BBC.com. We see how the [network] ratings dive up in the morning and dive off in the day, while BBC.com dives up in the afternoon and off at night.

MediaWorks: What about demographics? How will you change the perception of what the BBC America audience should be?

Mr. Gall: There's a lot of decision makers of a certain age where they watched Monty Python growing up, so they think we're like that all the time. ... Over the last 12 months, from November to November and since Garth [Ancier] came, we've dropped our median age by 10 years to 37.

MediaWorks: The cable universe is all about defining a network's viewer as succinctly as possible. How do you define the typical BBC America viewer? Is it ex-pats or Anglophiles?

Mr. Gall: I look at it more like ex-pats from around the world. They share the same interests and product interests. It's more of a state of mind. Whether you're from Japan and you're a businessperson or Beijing or Paris or New York, you have a very similar mind-set of what's important to you. They're people from around the world, and we do know they're upscale, but also looking for something different. Our audience research reveals they're opinion leaders and early adopters to new stuff.
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