Content Cafe


Industry Voices: Diane Hamer, BBC Studios

by Content Café — June 23, 2021

Welcome Diane, please introduce yourself.

I’m Diane Hamer, the head of BBC Studios’ content and brand protection.  I’m based in London but our company, the commercial subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC), operates globally and I’m lucky enough to work with colleagues across the world, particularly in our APAC offices. I grew up and qualified as a lawyer in Australia before moving to the UK to work in the tv industry, as a freelance researcher and producer, and later as a lawyer in private practice before joining the BBC. As the head of content protection, tackling the piracy of BBC Studios’ content sits squarely within my remit. 

Does piracy affect your business or that of your stakeholders? How? 

The BBC is well known for making great content, which it broadcasts in the UK on its linear channels and on its streaming service, BBC iPlayer. BBC Studios distributes this content globally, through tv sales, channels distribution and D2C streaming services such as Britbox, which launched last year in Australia. The revenue from BBC Studios’ commercial activity is returned to the BBC to invest in more content – it’s a virtuous circle.  

But as with all great content, piracy is a major challenge for us. While we strive to get our content to audiences across the world at a time, place and manner of their choosing, pirates do not play on a level playing field. They have no production costs, do not comply with regulatory obligations and make no payments to talent – the writers, directors, producers, set designers, musicians, actors, or anyone else involved in making this content. So they can get to market more cheaply and often more quickly than we can.   

 And here’s the challenge: our licensees around the world – the broadcasters, channel distributors, streaming services and others who buy our content to show in their home markets – pay for exclusivity.   

Piracy threatens to undermine that exclusivity. This in turn can adversely impact the fees licensees are willing to pay to buy our content, which means BBC Studios has less money to invest in future content. It’s a vicious circle. BBC Studios is very active in tackling this problem – but every penny spent on anti piracy is a penny less spent on screen. 

What do you think is the most significant impact of piracy on the creative industry?  

See above! Somehow, people still seem to assume piracy is a victimless crime. Far from it. The companies, and individuals, who are impacted by piracy are not some remote fat cats, but ordinary folk trying to earn a living, and companies with tight margins, and salaries to pay.  

Another factor, which I think is not well known, is the extent to which piracy is increasingly underpinned by organised crime. The Royal United Services Institute think tank, RUSI, here in the UK, recently produced an excellent report demonstrating how “audio-visual piracy is increasingly carried out by organised crime groups operating across multiple jurisdictions” Those who consume pirated content should understand that when they do so, they’re helping fund this crime, and in the process are handing personal data and credit card details to professional criminals. 

What is the biggest challenge in the fight against piracy?

There are many major challenges – including technical and legal, as well as the challenge of perception. Technically, I refer to the ease with which television content can be copied and re-streamed across multiple jurisdictions, without the rights owner’s consent; legally, rights owners have to contend with internet regulation and enforcement that is not only fairly weak, given the scale of the challenge, but also inconsistent, in its application and effect, country to country.  

 In the words of a colleague from beIN Sports, this “has resulted in a parallel, parasitical, pirate industry operating largely with impunity”. As to perception, in a broad sense I mean the way in which piracy is regarded as a victimless crime.  

 In relation to the BBC, there is an additional challenge in that, in the UK, our content (which is funded by a TV licence fee levied on all TV owning households) is distributed ‘in the clear’, free at the point of consumption.  This gives rise to a perception, exploited by pirates, that our content has no economic value, and is free for the taking. One particular manifestation of this is in the form of the ‘UK expat’ type channel streaming services that sell subscriptions to the BBC’s, as well as ITV’s and all the other UK free to air broadcasters’ UK channels, all over the world.  

 The pirate operators who offer these services make bold untruthful claims that what they’re doing is legal; one service (subsequently the subject of a major police operation) even claimed to work in conjunction with the British Chamber of Commerce! This perception often means their subscribers assume they are paying for a legal service.

It was grimly amusing to see customers’ Facebook comments when a similar service was taken down by the police – numerous of its subscribers demanded to know why the operators were being so unresponsive when the service had clearly crashed – little did they know the individuals were currently being interview by the police under caution! Less amusing was the fact that many of these subscribers had, in good faith, paid hefty upfront subscription fees – never to see their money, or the service, again. 

How do you think Australia is measuring up in tackling piracy? 

Australia has a sophisticated IP regime, which in principle offers appropriate tools to assist rights owners to protect their content. One such tool is the ability to apply to the court for site blocking injunctions requiring ISPs and other intermediaries to block access to pirate websites coming into Australia. This is one of the best available remedies against piracy, as it requires intermediaries – most of whom are legitimate entities with no interest in supporting piracy – to act against pirates when the pirates themselves do not comply with the law. Like in many other countries though, such applications are expensive and court processes never move as quickly as the pirates can. 

I think a fruitful area for development in Australia would be around criminal enforcement. The UK has a dedicated IP crime taskforce (PIPCU – Police Intellectual Property Crimes Unit) which has proved hugely effective in tackling all manner of IP crime – from fake car airbags and fake batteries to IPTV piracy. Although IP crime falls within the mandate of the Australian Federal Police, as far as I am aware, there is no dedicated unit within the AFP that specifically tackles this. IP crime is such a complex and vast subject that I think there are real benefits to having it tackled by a dedicated and specialist force. 

What are you watching and recommending to friends at the moment 

There is such a lot of good telly at the moment – I am spoiled for choice! The BBC has had some really strong drama and documentary over the last year or so – Line of Duty (obviously!), The Serpent (a true crime drama about a serial killer murdering westerners on the south east Asian hippie trail in the 1970s and starring the brilliant Tahar Rahim, who also played the protagonist in The Mauritanian), Pursuit of Love (based on the Nancy Mitford novel and starring Lily James, Dominic West and Andrew Scott), Time (written by Jimmy McGovern, it is a very grim portrayal of prison life, with Sean Bean and Stephen Graham). Adam Curtis’ series of documentary films, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, described as an “emotional history of the modern world”, was extraordinary. Going off brand, I absolutely loved Schitt’s Creek (who doesn’t?) and Call My Agent. 

Before you go check out last month’s interviews with Andrew Cripps and Deanne Weir