It quickly becomes apparent that while David Bouchier wants to talk about content, people and structures are going to form an equally key part of our interview.
Virgin Media’s Chief Digital Entertainment Officer is understandably keen to discuss updates to the company’s set-top box and a host of content deals.
It soon emerges, however, that these are just the icing on the cake.
The raw ingredients are very much human and structural. And it starts with Bouchier himself.
The Englishman is a veteran of Sky – he served in a number of roles including as Managing Director of Programming at the company’s Italian arm – and has set up his own TV channel for pre-school children called JimJam.
“I have unusual 360-degree view of industry,” he says of his career. “[Being] Mr TV is my job.”
Bouchier was hired by Virgin Media CEO Tom Mockridge in July 2015 to overhaul the company’s TV offering, which has been buffeted by arrival of BT’s entry into the market and the continued presence of his former employer, Sky.
In a bid to carve out a clear role for itself, Bouchier has delivered what he calls a “root and branch rebirth” of the company’s TV offering.
He says: “It has been a great opportunity to mirror the way the market has moved, [to assess] how consumers have changed and to follow new ways of viewing.”
One key objective has been to change “hearts and minds” at his employer. Although he says Virgin has a “heritage” as a TV business it “retrenched” in more recent times into being a cable business. A change of approach was required.
“I completely reoriented my team to look like a TV business,” says Bouchier. “There used to be a distinction between the tech/product side and the acquisition/content side. Now there is a promotions team, a subscription services team and a transactional services team – it’s oriented around the consumer product now, not internal departments.”
The exec has paid particular attention to what he calls “the front end of the business” – marketing and promotions.
He cites the ability to aim promotional messages at specific geographical areas as an example.
Virgin targeted football fans in Middlesbrough and Burnley in the run up the new football season following the promotion of their teams to the English Premier League.
But in order for the marketing teams to succeed, they need to have something to sell.
The football is important – as Bouchier says, Virgin wrote “a big cheque and put it in BT’s back pocket” – but not what he has been brought in to do.
Rather, he is interested in “classic pay TV territory”, which he defines as having “a deeper genre, an edgier theme, more immersive content.”
He adds: “There’s a lot of it around.”
But getting hold of it is key. Bouchier hired former Channel4 exec Gill Hay to head up programme acquisitions and give Virgin some much needed leverage in negotiations.
“The industry respects her, people trust her judgment,” says Bouchier.
Hay’s first act was to sign an exclusive deal with Endemol Shine International to bring the hit US show Kingdom to the UK.
Bouchier says it is already Virgin’s most popular on-demand programme since launching in April.
Virgin will also get four original drama series after parent Liberty Global signed a deal with All3Media - in which it owns a 50 percent stake – to produce them exclusively for opcos across its global footprint.
Bouchier is doubling up as Head of Commissioning for the two-year project, again demonstrating the people power that Virgin has at its disposal.
“It exemplifies why we’re different from other telcos,” he says. “Telcos don’t know the conversations they need to have with the industry. I’m fortunate to have worked across all parts of the TV business [and] I’m not intimidated by it.”
Thanks to his own contacts, as well as those of Hay, Bouchier says Virgin now has “a good relationship” with all the studios.
“One of things I have done to ensure we have right dialogue,” he continues. “The attitude of a telco is that they see [content] as a cost, but that doesn’t get you a great consumer offer.”
This is an extract from a feature interview in the Q3 issue of European Communications magazine. Click here to subscribe.