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2011's commissioning drought

05 January 2011

At the beginning of 2011, the business climate for independent producers looks remarkably similar to how it did last year – challenging.

Broadcaster fees have fallen for several years now and, certainly in the case of a cost-cutting BBC, will drop further in 2011.

Commissioning opportunities remain few and far between. Most broadcasters are now pursuing a version of the BBC’s ‘fewer, bigger, better’ strategy in an attempt to funnel reduced budgets into bigger budget shows that stand out in the schedule. Or they are playing it safe by investing heavily in long-running, familiar formats.

The amount of money available for new creative projects seems to be declining all the time.

One experienced producer who Televisual spoke with recently described the lack of funding available for new programmes – particularly one-offs or shows from smaller production companies – as “the great TV commissioning drought”.

All this is happening at a time when the hard fought terms of trade are under attack from broadcasters – which clouds the outlook for producers still further.

Moreover, producers have to deal with a very familiar bout of channel controller musical chairs. The commissioning process is again being thrown into flux with new controllers taking over at BBC1, BBC3, Channel 4 and ITV2.

There’s also additional competition in the production market from US studios such as Warners and NBCU, with the latter bankrolling ITV’s Downton Abbey (pictured). The US studios, as an interview in Televisual this month with NBCU execs Michael Edelstein and Gareth Neame shows, may have an edge on many UK indies – they are able to plug broadcaster deficits with their own funds to get projects off the ground.

There are positives for 2011: Campaign editor Claire Beale argues in her column in Televisual this month that the decision to allow product placement will mean a significant revenue boost for television. In depth features on the OB and sports sectors also showcase relatively buoyant sectors ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.

Overall, though, the picture looks as tough as ever for the next twelve months. But then, isn’t it always so for a producer?

Televisual’s January issue is out on Tuesday 11th

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