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Fighting Terms of Trade and BBC inhouse

06 October 2010

In recent months, it’s become clear that there’s a big question mark hanging over the future of the Terms of the Trade, the foundation stone of the UK’s thriving independent production sector.

Cash strapped broadcasters have, for some time, been chipping away at the Terms of Trade, which allow producers to hold onto and exploit the rights of the shows they make.

Now, though, it seems that broadcasters are determined to force a complete rethink of the Terms of Trade. This was given very public expression by BBC director general Mark Thompson’s MacTaggart speech in Edinburgh.

Taking a sidewipe at “the scale and ownership” of the independent sector – in other words the superindies – he said it was “the right time to take a fresh look at” indie and broadcaster deals.

Broadcaster thinking, it seems, is that indie producers, particularly the superindies, have got rich thanks to the Terms of Trade at the expense of the people who commission them.

Unfortunately, this pressure to rethink the Terms of Trade is happening just as the screw is being turned on the indie sector itself. Programme budgets are under acute pressure. And the BBC licence fee freeze means less money for new commissions.

Faced with such a stagnant market, indies have been thinking hard about where growth can possibly come from. And they have set their sights on campaigning to scrap inhouse production.

At an Edinburgh session titled ‘Are Superindies Bastards?’, Endemol boss Tim Hincks adeptly turned criticism away from superindies by openly questioning the existence of inhouse production.

Scrapping the BBC inhouse department, runs indie thinking, will lead to greater production efficiencies and creativity on screen – while also freeing up a lot of cash to be spent on independent production contracts.

Whatever the pros and cons of scrapping inhouse production or revising the Terms of Trade, it’s clear the relationship between producers and broadcasters is going to be rethought in the run up to the next Communications Act. Let the lobbying battle begin.

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