MotorTrend and BBC team up for new ‘Top Gear’ series as part of larger streaming video deal

One of the most popular automotive shows in the world is coming to MotorTrend’s subscription streaming service later this year.

MotorTrend Group, which is majority-owned by Discovery, has signed co-production and licensing deal with BBC Studios for the hit U.K. series “Top Gear.” As part of the seven-year deal, MotorTrend and BBC Studios will co-produce a new American version of “Top Gear,” which will be available exclusively on MotorTrend’s subscription video app. The app, which has now crossed 300,000 subscribers, will also be the home to more than 200 episodes — seasons 2 to 25, plus special episodes — of the U.K. show, as well as future seasons produced by BBC. The deal spans 14 countries including the U.S. and Canada. Individual episodes of “Top Gear” are still available for purchase or rent on other platforms, such as Amazon, iTunes and Google Play.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the new American version of “Top Gear” will have the highest budget for any series produced by MotorTrend, according to Alex Wellen, global president and gm of MotorTrend Group.

“We are going to make sure what comes off on screen is larger than life,” Wellen said. “There are going to be massive stunts and undertakings, going to the corners of the planet. To do that show right, it needs to be a major budget program. We were not going to do it unless we were committed to the BBC to do something quite audacious.”

For MotorTrend, both the new “Top Gear” series, as well as the full catalog of past seasons, will play a central role in getting users to subscribe to its streaming service. Today, subscribers pay $5 per month or $50 per year. Running for more than two decades, “Top Gear” has become one of the most famous shows for automotive fans and enthusiasts.

And in addition to the new “Top Gear” series, which will be exclusive to MotorTrend, and the catalog, MotorTrend will also be producing 60 or more “compilations” that mix in big moments and themes across the show’s run. Examples of upcoming compilations include “Fast Times with Captain Slow,” which will center on all of the times host James May has shed his reputation of being “Captain Slow,” as well as “Damn Yankees,” which will feature the best insults the show’s hosts have said about American cars.

“If we are going to be a true direct-to-consumer subscription business, our audiences will want the full [‘Top Gear’] library,” said Wellen. “But we also wanted to do more than a full library and become the ultimate destination for ‘Top Gear.’”

As media companies of all sizes race to go direct to consumer and build subscription streaming businesses, programming — especially exclusive programming — becomes paramount. People need a reason to pay for the content, and for a niche media property such as MotorTrend, offering access to the most famous car show on the planet can help.

And by mixing in a new, exclusive series with the full library, MotorTrend is creating an offering where it can get people to sign up to watch the new stuff, and then stick around to catch up on the old favorites, said Chris Erwin, co-founder of entertainment firm Doing Work As.

“There might be people who are massive lovers of the old library, but are still on the fence about signing up — it’s possible they convert if they are promised new episodes,” Erwin said. “And they can also service new customers who aren’t familiar with the catalog, but might enjoy the new series and then end up hanging out with the library.”

To promote the deal, MotorTrend will air select U.K. episodes on its TV network in June. The network is available in 73 million homes in the U.S., and averages 17 million to 20 million viewers per month, according to Wellen.

The new American version of the series, meanwhile, will begin production in the summer, with plans to premiere in the fall.

“If you look at ‘Top Gear,’ this is hallowed pavement,” said Wellen. “We understand the credibility that you need to have in this space to make this a success. You have to be a bit more audacious to take on this heritage; but we’re MotorTrend, we’re steeped in heritage.”

Image courtesy of MotorTrend

Subscribe to the Digiday Video Briefing: A weekly email with news, quotes and stats around the modernization of video, TV and entertainment.

More in Future of TV

Future of TV Briefing: Why Yahoo’s DSP adding CTV support for Nielsen rivals matters to the future of measurement

This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks at how Yahoo DSP’s integration of three alternative measurement providers could help to shape the future of TV and streaming ad measurement.

Future of TV Briefing: 5 trends to track in this year’s upfront market

This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks at the changes that may — or may not — transpire during this year’s upfront cycle.

Future of TV Briefing: How TV and streaming companies’ advertising businesses fared in Q1 2024

This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks at what TV and streaming companies’ latest quarterly earnings reports indicate about the state of the TV and streaming ad business.