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What will the BBC TV production shake-up mean for the industry? by John Plunkett & Maggie Brown

Jul 14, 2014

Our industry experts examine the impact of scrapping quotas and the spin-off of TV production

Source: The Guardian

Danny Cohen, director of BBC Television

If we are going to consider removing the in-house [output] guarantee in its entirety we need to free up BBC Production to make programmes for other broadcasters.

The BBC is known for high quality content that’s widely enjoyed and I don’t think that’s going to change. Most people will still get their sense of that from the BBC’s own channels, radio stations and online.

If a programme idea is rejected by the BBC and then picked up by another channel, the intellectual property would be owned by the BBC and the British public, and it might be that IP travels around the world. There’s a lot of upside to it.

I don’t disagree this is a very big moment in terms of television programme supply in the UK, it feels like one of the biggest decisions we have made in the last decade. I think it’s the right time to do it.

Pat Younge, former chief creative officer, BBC Production

I believe this model has many benefits. BBC TV commissioners will be freed up to choose the best ideas from any supplier and it introduces real jeopardy into the relationship with BBC Production – there’s currently no meaningful ability for an in-house producer to take an idea elsewhere.

BBC Production’s creativity becomes transparent in the volume of business it wins. It enables BBC Production to get better returns on its development investment, with a wider range of buyers and tastes for every good idea. Producing for other channels, UK and abroad, will generate more profit to support the licence fee.

Scrapping quotas will also remove complexity, reducing cost and speeding up the commissioning process.

However, to unlock all the benefits I believe BBC Production needs to become part of BBC Worldwide. It would still be 100% BBC and publicly owned, but could then offer market rate pay and conditions for production talent and remove the ridiculous comparison to the prime minister’s salary and other canards. It would also force clarity on the EU illegal subsidies issue.

However, the proposals have some potential downsides too. BBC channels may become less distinctive – ITV and Sky would lap up BBC blue-chip drama and natural history which audiences and advertisers love. Most people don’t know Whitechapel and Primeval were both developed by the BBC.

It could lead to public confusion over what they are paying the licence fee for. BBC research shows only 8% of viewers watch the credits through to the end, so most probably assume the BBC is making all their content today. How do you explain that their licence fee isn’t being used to subsidise productions on commercial broadcasters like ITV or elsewhere? It wouldn’t be, but this is probably the biggest hurdle.

Daisy Goodwin, ex BBC producer, founder of independent producer Silver River, now majority owned by Sony

A historic move? We shall see. But it is very good if more people in the BBC have an awareness of how businesses are run.

I think these moves are inevitable, because the BBC’s in-house production side has become harder and harder to defend in this day and age.

Competition from BBC producers doesn’t worry me as an independent producer, because we’re always competing against everybody.

There are some brilliant people at the BBC, but they will find it challenging to work for other broadcasters. Inevitably some bits of in-house production will thrive but others will fall by the wayside. The Natural History Unit will remain a beacon of excellence, for instance. In the future BBC Production should concentrate on the difficult-to-make programmes.

Wayne Garvie, ex BBC head of entertainment, now chief creative officer, international production for Sony Pictures TV

It’s opening up the market. What they have understood is the market has changed completely and in the era of consolidation producers are truly international. It opens up the BBC to everyone which is a good thing. It also gives the BBC an ability to compete creatively on a level playing field with everyone else.

[BBC producers’] hands have been tied because they can only create for the BBC, which has led to difficulty recruiting the right level of people and coming up with the right ideas in-house. If we believe in competition, which we do, this is a good thing.

In some areas [BBC in-house production] is good, particularly if you look at its ability to maintain some of its existing franchises and keep them going. But you would question in a lot of areas the innovation, where are those big new shows, there really haven’t been many from in-house for quite some time.

© The Guardian