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BBC zones in on African audiences

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Joel Churcher

BBC Worldwide is spreading its tentacles globally in an effort to bridge the geographic divide. Joel Churcher, the newly appointed vice-president and general manager of the African division, feeds into this wide-reaching strategy. Debashine Thangevelo grabbed an exclusive interview with Churcher to chat about how he plans to leave a mark in his new role.

IT was in November last year that Ian McDonough, the then executive vice-president BBC Worldwide Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, announced the broadcaster’s plan to open a division in South Africa.

He said: “We have a fantastic story to tell here in South Africa and audiences are growing and supporting.

“Our relationship with DStv has never been in better shape. And we feel so confident about the market in South Africa and Africa that we want to put an office here and put in a regional manager, from the ground, who would report to me.”

That plan came to fruition when Joel Churcher was announced as the BBC’s vice-president and general manager of Africa in March – a position that officially came into effect in April.

Still in the debriefing and research phase before relocating to Joburg in the last quarter of this year, Churcher acknowledges his weighty responsibilities, saying: “My biggest challenge over the next year is not only to get closer to our audiences but also to get closer to the different cultures so that BBC fits with the demographic and country.”

He outlines the business development objectives further, noting: “Our remit is to expand TV and digital sales as well as format sales, which includes commissioning and identifying new format and programmes for that region. And there is also the licensing and publishing, consumer products and live events.”

And when it comes to sales, Churcher is in his element with more than seven years’ experience under his belt.

In his 18 months with the company, he has been an account director for BBC Worldwide’s Europe, Middle East and Africa region before expanding his portfolio as advertising sales director, where he spearheaded the sales division on BBC branded channels in Western Europe and within the Eastern Europe, Middle East and African region, inclusive of South Africa.

Churcher admits: “It is interesting going into that new role. I have to look at Africa, firstly as a continent, and then I need to start finding out which shows have fans and in which countries. A lot of what I have been doing is identifying the BBC strategy and looking at how to implement it.”

Talking about formats, I push him for comment on whether they have a series in mind to succeed the locally formatted Come Dine With Me South Africa.

“BBC is not just a TV content producer, in terms of TV sales. We have our own formats as well. In South Africa we sell the UK format of Friends Like These and Dancing with the Stars (which in South Africa is titled Strictly Come Dancing) and more. We have always had successful formats. We have a catalogue with over 50 titles. It is about looking at formats but also looking at the market. I’m looking at all options for something that fits with the BBC values and works with our fans.

“I’m not sure it is going to be a reality series. We are looking for something that is fresh to introduce in South Africa and the Pan-African markets. And it has to be something that resonates with them.”

Another important facet he will be overseeing is the recruitment of his team.

“That is one of the really exciting things. I get to recruit a team that can help grow the BBC brand even bigger and bolder.”

Now it’s all about the planning and preparation before implementation can kick in. A mammoth task may lie ahead for Churcher, but he looks set to take this bull by the horns.


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