Showcase is where Worldwide - the BBC's commercial arm - really rolls out the red carpet for international buyers. Last night, an event featured Richard Hammond interviewing the stars of Top Gear USA in a room surrounded by driving simulator games and a bucking bronco. Tonight is devoted to new natural history series Frozen Planet, including an animatronic polar bear ready to guide guests into the dining room. But it's the packed floor of viewing booths where the majority of business is actually done, with buyers not only assessing the BBC's latest content, but also programming from ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.
The BBC sells its shows at various events around the world, most notably the annual MipCom event in Cannes, but Steve McAllister, managing director of Worldwide's S&D operation, said that Brighton is really the premiere selling opportunity. Showcase is the largest programme sales exposition in the world run by a single distributor, with more than 300 shows up for grabs. McAllister described MipCom as being like "speed dating" with the buyers, compared to the "long meaningful dinner" of Showcase. The event is such a priority for Worldwide that next year it will shift from Brighton to a much larger venue in Liverpool to accommodate the ever growing interest.
Mutimer said: "Drama is probably one of our fastest growing areas for programme sales, and we are now able to really compete with the US producers, but it's about getting the right acting talent to have presence overseas and getting them involved in the process."
Getting buy-in from top talent is a key part of gaining the interest of buyers and making sure homegrown shows are a success overseas. Mutimer gave the example of when the new series of Doctor Who aired in France on the France 4 network. To promote the show, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan appeared in a special promotional trailer and posed for a photoshoot for a 1,000 poster site run. The two stars even engaged with prospective viewers on social media sites such as Facebook, helping to drive up the ratings when the programme eventually aired.
The process of selling content to overseas broadcasters generally involves knowing the individual markets extremely well. People all over the world have different viewing habits and preferences, meaning what works in the UK may fall flat elsewhere. But sometimes shows that have had limited success in Britain can find a good home overseas. The Deep, for example, slumped in the ratings during its five-episode run on BBC One, but the presence of star talent such as Minnie Driver and the undersea science-fiction storyline helped the programme gain plenty of attention from other broadcasters.
Sarah Doole manages Worldwide's relationship with all comedy and drama productions from the independent sector, working with around 120 UK indies to help them tap into the possibilities of selling overseas. Doole's remit includes offering guidance at the early stages of development of a TV series as to how it could better appeal to international broadcasters. Often, it's just a matter of thinking slightly different, such as shows being made more marketable in the US if they feature a single lead star, or an American actor in the cast. She gave the example of Robert Vaughan in Hustle, whose casting helped give the programme a much wider potential audience.
Doole explained that indies have become "excited" in recent years about the possibilities of marketing their content abroad, especially as it means they don't have to wait for the shows to be picked up by the BBC or ITV. Alongside drama, Worldwide has also secured deals for comedy productions, such as Psychoville being picked up by US cable channel FearNet. Doole warned, though, that British comedy is not always transferrable. The Royle Family, for example, is a terrific piece of writing, but its unique British sensibility is unlikely to work with overseas audiences. Other factors are also important, such as creating self-contained stories within episodes so they can be watched individually and avoiding dark, dreary backstreet settings in favour of more colourful backdrops.
America used to be the market that all UK producers wanted to break into, but actually Europe is now showing the most growth. Many of the deals currently being done by indies are for co-productions, hooking up with a European broadcaster to pool resources and jointly produce a new series. Doole said that this can generate excellent results, as money and creativity combine to produce a winning formula. However, she cautioned that co-production is not for everyone as there are generally "strings attached" to any agreement. In the worst case, these relationships can result in a "Euro pudding" being produced, a programme reduced to the lowest common denominator by the demands of both parties.
Death In Paradise is about an English detective named Richard Gill, who moves to the Caribbean island of Sainte Marie. Under the development programme with France TV it has already been agreed that Gill's sidekick Camille will be played by a French actress and the sense of glamour on the island will be heightened, largely to ensure that the show appeals more to a French audience. MacDonald said that joint productions such as Death In Paradise are all about developing a show which works for both broadcasters, but also crucially retains what made the idea stand out in the first place. If everything comes together just right, what results is a new programme that can delight audiences both at home and abroad.