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BBC and Red Bee - too cosy?

Blog
11 February 2011

Of course, the last thing the BBC needs right now is another volley of accusations that it is wasting licence-payers' money.

In the midst of the most savage cuts the Corporation has ever seen, any suggestion that due diligence is not being paid to all aspects of BBC spending is as unwelcome as a football commentator at a Fawcett Society drinks party.

But the UK commercials production industry will not be silenced, stepping up their campaign against the BBC's cosy relationship with Red Bee Media, and are taking it to the Commons in a bid for justice.

I've written here before about the dispute. To recap briefly, Red Bee used to be the BBC's inhouse commercials production facility, and it regularly borrowed talent from the independent sector - for free - to direct its work. Then back in 2005 the BBC sold the facility to Australian Bank Macquarie and as part of the deal granted Red Bee an exclusive 10-year contract to produce the vast majority of the BBC's commercials. Oh, and it still expected independent production companies to supply their directors for free.

The Advertising Producers Association has been arguing vociferously that the arrangement is anti-competitive, claiming that it effectively allows the BBC to create a monopoly for its on-air promotions. Most of the APA's members now refuse to lend the BBC their directors, but they still don't get a chance to pitch for BBC business. And they've had enough.

Now the APA has called on the National Audit Office to investigate whether the Red Bee deal really does - as the BBC continues to argue, though without producing any evidence - represent value for licence-fee payers' money. MPs are being lined up to ask questions in the commons about the Red Bee monopoly, and as you might imagine there's no shortage of politicians keen to find another stick with which to beat the BBC.

It's an important cause for the UK's small, entrepreneurial but struggling commercials production sector. And it's a matter of principle that should be important to the wider creative community, which relies on contracts with the Beeb to help fund the nurturing of new talent. Let's hope that the issue doesn't get buried by the general upheaval taking place over at Broadcasting House.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

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