BBC Studios, the BBC’s largest commercial subsidiary, has published a summary of its strategic and financial performance for the year 2020/21, revealing a resilient performance despite difficult operating circumstances owing to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Overall sales were £1,255 million (2019/20: £1,388 million), a decline of 10%, largely due to pauses in production. Profit (EBITDA) was £151 million (2019/20: £181 million), a year-on-year reduction of 17% as reduced costs partially offset lower revenues.
Returns to the BBC, primarily investment in programming, were £137 million (2019/20: £276 million), and BBC Studios is on track to deliver its five-year target of £1.2 billion in returns to the BBC as planned by the end of the next financial year.
The business made good progress on its strategic goals, with BBC Studios content at the heart of premium SVOD services Discovery+ and HBO Max as they launched in the year; the launch of streaming service BBC Select on Apple TV+ and Amazon; and a good year for BritBox, particularly in North America. Creative successes included 74 new commissions for the BBC and 16 for third parties, as well as 41 awards from 109 nominations.
A planned focus on people and culture was expanded to provide financial support for staff impacted by the pause in production, a package of wellbeing measures and a £300,000 donation to the Film and TV Charity’s emergency support fund for industry freelancers in addition to the £500,000 donation in the previous financial year.
Tom Fussell, interim CEO of BBC Studios, said: “2020/21 was an extremely challenging year, and I want to pay tribute to teams across the business who worked so hard to deliver this set of results. Behind the numbers we are releasing today is a superhuman, collective effort to support our customers around the world, with most of us working in difficult and dynamic circumstances to deliver the very best British content. We’ve kept programmes on air, set standards for Covid-safe productions, scooped commissions, won awards, launched new services, strengthened our production pipeline and grown our brands. Thanks to a quicker than expected recovery in the global media industry, particularly advertising, along with some careful cost controls, we are in a very strong position to deliver on significant commercial ambition and meet the new target of £1.5bn set by the BBC over the five years from 21/22.”
Despite a pause in production and uncertainty in the advertising market affecting both revenues and EBITDA, thanks to careful control of costs and reduced investment, BBC Studios ended the year in a position of strength.
BBC Studios’ UK production teams made an impressive 1,352 hours of content and 232 titles in the year, with teams rising quickly to the Covid challenge by setting industry standards for safe ways of working within the restrictions – The One Show remained on air throughout and there were quick turnaround productions like the one-off Children In Need-Comic Relief collaboration The Big Night In, which reached a peak audience of 8.5 million and raised £74 million. Continuing dramas including EastEnders and Pobol y Cwm were back filming in the summer of 2020 and at year end 90% of productions were back in operation.
Internationally, production teams managed to overcome severe Covid restrictions in LA, France, South Africa and Mumbai to make titles including Dancing With The Stars series 29 for ABC, Murder Among the Mormons for Netflix, Sons of the Soil for Amazon in India, and a second series of Criminal Justice for Disney+ Hotstar.
As BBC content went live on new services Discovery+ and HBO Max, Content Sales had its second best year ever with overall revenues down only 9% year on year, as teams worked quickly to support clients affected by the delays in receiving new shows due to the pause in production, and the income from Consumer Products reversed recent market trends to increase 3% as people turned back to DVDs and downloads during the pandemic.
Launches in the year included BBC Select on Amazon and Apple TV+, a digital streaming service with a focus on culture, politics and ideas, and e-learning service BBC Maestro in the UK with courses from Gary Barlow and Jed Mercurio. BritBox went live in Australia, and the service was particularly successful internationally (where it is a joint venture between BBC Studios and ITV), reaching 1.7m subscribers in the year.
BBC Studios’ creative talent was recognised in the year: it was the most commissioned production company in the UK for new content for the second year running with 74 commissions for the BBC and 16 for third parties, winning 41 major awards. Key brands Top Gear and Strictly Come Dancing continued to deliver strong performances, extending their global and digital footprints, while new creative hits included We Hunt Together (UKTV); BAFTA and RTS-Award-winning The Surgeon’s Cut (Netflix); Waterhole (BBC Two/PBS) and Pandemonium (BBC One). Distinctive, high quality programming from BBC Studios’ invested indie partners ranged from A Suitable Boy for BBC One from Lookout Point and the multi-award-winning I May Destroy You from Various Artists & FALKNA also for BBC One.
Core to BBC Studios’ success is a focus on putting people first: developing a culture that promotes diversity, career development and leadership, wellbeing and sustainability. In addition to launching a three-year diversity & inclusion plan, which sets out a blueprint for a more inclusive culture through long term changes to the way the business operates, in order to accurately and authentically reflect modern Britain, BBC Studios Productions also committed to a minimum threshold of 20% for those from an underrepresented background on every new production and launched a specialist training programme for Assistant Producers. The business also stepped-up initiatives to spot and nurture new creative talent – particularly across digital and scripted – through popular initiatives run through its TalentWorks and ScriptWorks labels.
As part of its commitment to help protect the planet and its people, BBC Studios launched a company-wide sustainability plan with new targets, that included a minimum 50% reduction in travel vs pre-pandemic levels and the ambition to achieve carbon net zero by 2030. This work builds on the business’ existing sustainability achievements, which saw 100% of productions deliver Albert foot-printing and 98% productions completed BAFTA Carbon Action Plans (formerly known as Albert Certification) to reduce carbon emissions, including BBC Studios wholly and majority-owned independent production labels.
Outlook for 21/22
Thanks to the financial results outlined above, BBC Studios is in a strong position for future growth. Although there is ongoing uncertainty about the markets in which the business operates as a result of the pandemic, it is on track to meet its current five-year target of £1.2 billion by the end of the new financial year.
Ongoing transformation of the business includes the move of BBC Global News and BBC Children’s Productions, creating further opportunities to develop new content for third parties and direct-to-consumer services, especially in audio for the former.
BBC Studios has entered the new year with a strong creative slate across production and distribution. BBC Studios Productions’ series include Jimmy McGovern’s Time, which was the BBC’s biggest new drama of 2021 so far with a launch audience of 8.4 million, new landmark The Green Planet for BBC One from BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit, narrated by Sir David Attenborough and dancing/dating format I Like The Way You Move for BBC Three alongside existing brand favourites like Top Gear and EastEnders. Meanwhile upcoming titles from BBC Studios’ indie partners include Nicole Lecky’s Superhoe (working title) James Graham’s Sherwood and David Olusoga’s Forgotten Empire. BBC Studios