After decades selling mainly to English-speaking markets worldwide, the veteran British Broadcasting Corp. is expanding its focus to sell more programs in Latin America, Asia and other regions.
That change involves restructuring the long centralized organization, speeding up responses from corporate headquarters to new market demands, and in some cases, setting up “open” offices with round tables and no assigned desks in an effort to foster collaboration.
Fred Medina, executive vice president and managing director for Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic market for BBC Worldwide, shared his experience in BBC’s transformation at WorldCity’s CEO Club on Sept. 6.
Results since BBC’s April 1 launch of its new structure “have been both rewarding and chaotic,” Medina said. Perhaps toughest: breaking down the traditional silos between office functions at corporate headquarters to forge new horizontal links that support activities in different world regions.
“Growth strategies are extremely aggressive,” Medina said. “We’re expected to make up some of the flattening of revenues in mature markets,” such as Western Europe.
To build his regional team, Medina said he recruited mainly executives seasoned in Latin American media, with no BBC experience. His aim: to leverage their relationships and expertise in the region, so they can help meet the ambitious goal to increase the division’s sales eight-fold in five or six years.
How much will the push involve producing local content within Latin America?, asked Steve Bartley, principal at Americas Gateway Search and Consulting.
Not much, said Medina. BBC has tens of thousands of hours of its own content to sell for varied platforms, including pay TV, radio or live-streaming over the Internet.
“You don’t want to compete against the Globos or Televisas,” he said, referring to regional media giants with their own production. Plus, BBC aims mainly for a premium audience that can pay for its content on cable or satellite TV, attend its program-related events and afford to download its programs online.
Of course, some shows are made in Latin America for a global audience, such as “Wild Brazil,” a multiyear venture filmed in the Amazon region and focused on wildlife there.
“We believe the best value we bring to the region is producing content for the world, with a regional reference,” said Medina.
What are your priorities in developing sales in the Latin American market?, asked Lorena Keough, managing director of executive recruiter Diversified Search.
The big markets of Mexico and Brazil come first, so that BBC can build scale quickly, said Medina. The division also is focused on selling to the largest media players regionwide, such as Direct TV that can deliver programs to large audiences in many countries fast.
In developing the U.S. Hispanic market, what are the trends: programming in English or in Spanish or some mix of both?, asked Ruben Rotulo, president of consulting firm Robles Advisors.
U.S. Hispanics span a wide range of language and media preferences, said Henry Martinez, executive director and managing director of Discovery Networks Latin America and U.S. Hispanic markets. Some Hispanics are Spanish-dominant, some bilingual and some English-dominant. Many younger, U.S-born Hispanics prefer English, and that’s the group targeted by Fusion, the new English-language TV network being launched in Miami by a joint venture between ABC and Univision, said Martinez.
For BBC Worldwide, one key challenge in the U.S. Hispanic market is contract rights – ensuring that that the Latin American division doesn’t sell in U.S. markets where its U.S. team may already have sold the same program to a different network. That means working closely with lawyers on “rights and grants” contained in sales contracts, said Medina.
Overall, the new push aims for BBC revenues from its Latin American division to reach about 10 percent, Medina said.
That’s higher than the 2-4 percent of revenues that multinationals typically have drawn from the Latin American region, said recruiter Keough: “If you’re at 5 percent, usually you are doing very well.”
Some companies report larger shares from Latin America for historical reasons, participants said.
Sweden’s Electrolux, for example, entered Latin America early and adapted its mass-market goods to local needs, including smaller refrigerators in Brazil and colorful ones in Mexico, said Joao Claudio Guetter, president for Latin America and the Caribbean for Electrolux Major Appliances.
Other companies were late to enter larger markets such as the United States, so their Latin American share skews higher, added Vincent Payet, managing director for Latin American partners and distributors for Ferring Pharmaceuticals, which was started in Sweden and now is based in Switzerland.
Luxury brands long saw limits in Latin America because of its slow economic growth. But Latin America’s recent commodities boom has opened new markets for luxury stores even in smaller nations such as Bolivia and Uruguay, said Diego Stecchi, managing director for Latin America and the Caribbean for Italy’s fashion house Ferragamo.
“That was a dream just a few years ago,” Stecchi said.
Born in France to Mexican parents, Medina was raised in Texas and earned his bachelor’s in business there. He specialized in Latin American and U.S. Hispanic media, also working in corporate business development with Ole Communications and in positions with Univision, HBO Latin America and Ericsson.
BBC is the largest media company in the United Kingdom. It gets its principal revenue from a fee of about 10 pounds per month assessed on each UK household. That adds up to roughly 3.5 billion pounds a year, Medina said.
A reputation for quality content is helping BBC sales in Latin America. Said Medina, “We’re well positioned as a global brand.”
The CEO Club is one of six event series organized by WorldCity to bring together executives on international business topics. The CEO series is sponsored by the University of Miami School of Business Administration. The next CEO Club is set for Oct. 4.