Dear America: this is not the BBC 

13 August 2013

I can’t say I’ve ever watched BBC America. For starters, I’ve only ever been to America twice in my life – once when I was 11 which was seven years before the channel launched. The second occasion was a brief visit for work, earlier this year, and my hotel didn’t offer it. Besides, I was too jetlagged.

But having looked at the schedule, it’s quite clear I’m not missing much. Just take this Thursday for example. From 8-11pm is three hours of Planet Earth. 5-7pm is Masterchef UK: The Professionals.

What else, you may ask? Well there’s an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares UK. Which was, of course, a Channel 4 show from 2004. Still, at least it’s British. But what’s that just before it? Two episodes of the US version of Kitchen Nightmares? Eh?


If you think that’s bonkers, between 11am and 2pm BBC America shows that well known British programme, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact skip forward to Saturday night and The Next generation is on for five episodes, back to back.

Now, I love Star Trek TNG. I’ve watched every episode more than once, I’m sure. Probably several times. And I’m sure it brings in the ratings, but this is BBC America for goodness sake! It’s a station name that screams “Bring me the best of British television!” if not “Bring me the best of the BBC!”

BBC America is 50% owned by BBC Worldwide – a business which is about exploiting BBC content. It’s recently been forced to divest businesses like Lonely Planet that aren’t directly related to that aim. But is a TV channel that shows a significant amount of non-British content really meeting that aim? Is this nonsense of a channel doing the BBC’s reputation any good? Yet alone that of British television.

Just think of the huge reams of fantastic programming that the BBC has. Comedy, drama, documentaries. But no. The view the US get of the BBC is five hours of Star Trek, and back to back Top Gear. And how depressing a thought is that?

Funnily enough I’ll be back in the States in a month or so. If the hotel doesn’t have BBC America this time, I can’t say I’ll be disappointed.

You Say

9 responses to this article

Donald Mellon 24 August 2013 at 11:36 pm

The purpose of BBC America is to make a profit, a fact which you have so carelessly overlooked.

Presumably, thanks to the internal market philosophy introduced by the greatest of BBC Director General’s John Birt (the baron of the BBC) appointed under the auspices of the blessed Margaret Hilda Thatcher [nee Roberts, patron saint of shopkeepers], it is less expensive to buy in Star Trek than BBC contnent without any difference to the ratings, which is all that the advertisers on BBC America care about and not some unprofitable sentimental notion of portraying English culture.

BBC America’s best performing drama show is its own origina1, and most excellent, drama “Copper”, shot in the capital city of Ontario, Toronto.

Andrew Bowden 25 August 2013 at 11:40 am

Whilst it is true that BBC America has to make a profit (well, is supposed to. BBC World News certainly didn’t for many, many years) it also has to uphold the BBC’s brand values. Let’s look at what BBC Worldwide’s description of their role and that of their operations is:

BBC Worldwide exists to support the BBC public service mission and to maximise profits on its behalf. It does this through investing in, commercialising and showcasing content from the BBC around the world, in a way that is consistent with BBC standards and values.

That’s at the heart of

Is endless repeats of US originated programming showcasing BBC content showcasing BBC content? No.

BBC Entertainment – basically the equivalent of BBC America for the rest of the world – does this with a vastly more varied schedule. If they can do it, then why is BBC America different? This is at a time when UK programming is enjoying amazing success in the US. You only have to look at how popular Downton Abbey has been on PBS to see that. With a huge potential archive of programming available, we’re more than justified in asking why BBC America is such the travesty it is.

Donald Mellon 25 August 2013 at 7:43 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

“it also has to uphold the BBC’s brand values”

Since BBC domestic services ran and re-ran Star Trek (TOS and TNG) many times, there can be no dispute that further re-runs of Star Trek (TOS and TNG) on BBC domestic or BBC America in any way contravenes the upholding of the BBC’s brand value.

Since BBC domestic services must include at least 25% independently non BBC produced shows, it is there unreasonable to argue that BBC America shewing non BBC produced shows originally aired on the ITV or Channel 4 networks is any way a contravention of upholding BBC brand values.

One of the most intellectual programs (if not the most instellectual program on the modern digital dumbed down BBC-2 post ghettoizing of intelleectual programs on BBC-4) is an ITV Studios production — “University Challenge”.

Perhaps your understanding of BBC values and the upholding thereof is stuck in the pre-Birtian era?

“This is at a time when UK programming is enjoying amazing success in the US.”

As evidenced by BBC America’s Monday night schedule from 18:00h EDT to 00::00h EDT (six hours in total) — Top Gear and nothing but Top Gear (a BBC production for the BBC).

It would also be helpful for you to consider that to the north, BBC Canada, being licensed in Canada and by the CRTC, has to shew a percentage of Canadian content, which by definition will not be showcasing BBC domestic content, but not a problem for Copper, which as I mentioned above was shot in Ontario, even though for BBC America.

“we’re more than justified in asking why BBC America is such the travesty it is.”

You may conider yourself justified, but who at BBC America or BBC Worldwide will consider that your criticism has any validity when advertising revenues on BBC America continue to grow and the number of subscribers to the station is up from 69 million homes (2011) to 77 million homes (2012) to 81 million homes (2013)?

Furthermore your criticism is based purely on an Anglocentric perspective and not from that of the intended audience — American TV viewers.

And not forgetting BBC commercial values, you can now buy the Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver remote control for the now reduced price of $99.95 (previously $99.98) at the BBC America shop, where discs of Downton Abbey can also be purchased.

The basis of the bottom line for BBC America is not misplaced cultural sentimentality but the profit margin and it is without doubt that Anthony Hall considers Timothy Davie is doing a fantastic job at bringing in the extra revenue.

Andrew Bowden 28 August 2013 at 9:09 am

BBC domestic services must include at least 25% non-BBC produced shows, but they have to be shows that the BBC commissioned and stumped up cash upfront to produce. Bought in content, such as Star Trek, doesn’t count towards that quota. In contrast, because the BBC pays for ITV Studios to produce University Challenge, that programme does count.

As for BBC Canada, the fact that their regulations require Canadian content puts it in a different boat to BBC America. Notably BBC Canada also has a slightly more varied schedule too, although still nowhere near the variety of BBC Entertainment.

Whilst BBC America may be bringing in the viewers, there’s a valid question that its management has to answer on the channel scheduling. BBC Worldwide was being told quite clearly in 2009 that whilst profits were good, those profits had – absolutely HAD – to come from activities that were related to the BBC, and upheld the BBC’s brand and values (see

Following that came the decision to dispose of activities such as Lonely Planet, BBC Magazines, and a share in several non-BBC branded TV channels – all of which affected BBC Worldwide’s profit making ability.

I’m not laying down the rules for BBC Worldwide’s activities – the BBC Trust are.

Neil Young 31 August 2013 at 4:25 pm

From what you’ve written, it looks as if BBC America may be on its way off the air, I wonder what American viewers would make of PBS America (note it’s not called PBS UK)

Sky subscription required

Adverts between the programmes

Hours and hours of Antiques Roadshow USA

Donald Mellon 3 October 2013 at 8:22 pm

Thanks once again for your response.

“BBC domestic services must include at least 25% non-BBC produced shows”

Yes that is true — BBC domestic services — which is totally irrelevant to the matter of BBC America.

“Whilst BBC America may be bringing in the viewers, there’s a valid question that its management has to answer on the channel scheduling.”

The management has to answer to whom? The BBC Trust you say and then give the URL

from four years ago which is broken resulting in

“Sorry – we haven’t been able to serve the page you asked for”

which is not very helpful.

The simple fact of the matter is that the BBC Trust has to the best of my knowledge made any public comment or criticism of the activities of BBC America since the date of the 2009 URL which related to Lonely Planet and not BBC America.

The only comment I can find with regard to BBC Trust’s attitude towards BBC America is from the

BBC Trust Meeting of November 17th, 2011

in which the BBC Trust was only concerned about how well financially BBC America was doing and could care less about the program schedule —


Members noted BBC Worldwide’s strong

financial performance, despite the

economic uncertainty, and progress agains

t the priorities set for BBC America,

UKTV, the Global iPlayer and BBC World

wide Productions.


And again, in the BBC Annual Report summary at

the BBC boasts of how well BBC America is doing


In 2012/13, BBC Worldwide delivered a solid performance in the face of incredibly tough trading conditions. Key growth drivers were:

(o) growth in BBC Worldwide’s branded channel portfolio, particularly higher advertising and affiliate sales for BBC America


with no reference to any concerns about program policy.

Perhaps if you are a member of the same gentlemen’s club as Christopher Patten you could “have a quiet word with him” (the traditional English way of getting things done) and gauge whether or not the BBC Trust is in anyway concerned about the schedule of BBC Amercia ;+) ;+) ;+)

Charles Norton 30 October 2013 at 11:40 am

It’s very important for to some people that they have the last word in an argument, isn’t it?

Marcus Belfontaine 2 August 2014 at 12:22 am

In a move which will surely be welcomed as addressing the concernts of BBC America better reflecting BBC values, as well as a means of improving program content, BBC Worldwide have entered into talks to sell up tol 50% ownership of the channel to AMC (home of quality drama Mad Men, The Walking Dead etc)

Thiis will undoutedly be welcome news to the BBC Trust as it will result in some additional income for the BBC which has been suffering from the government imposed cutbacks to its source of funding and the government imposed increased financial burdens of having to pay for BBC World Service and the Cymraeg language station S4C.

A BBC Worldwide spokeswoman said: “BBC America has just recorded eight straight years of growth and has never been stronger in brand, ratings, advertising or critical acclaim.”

Marcus Belfontaine 28 October 2014 at 9:57 pm

The ink on the deal is now dry.

BBC Worldwide has sold a 49.9% stake of BBC America to AMC for USD 200 million.

And it is not just BBC America which is affected by the sell off but BBC World News as well.

Under the deal, AMC will also represent BBC World News in the US, with the aim of boosting its advertising sales and expanding its distribution beyond the 30m US households it currently reaches.

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