What are the five things that define BBC2? No, this isn’t a media studies exam question. But it’s something that BBC2 controller Janice Hadlow has clearly put a lot of thought into.
At a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch today, she gave a talk about the five things that make BBC2 what it is. It was a good insight into how Hadlow sees the channel, and provided a useful frame of reference to understand how her commissioning decisions are made.
Here are the five points she outlined:
1. Intelligence, intelligence, intelligence. Hadlow defined BBC2 as, first and foremost, the home of intelligent thinking in terrestrial television, a place where big minds and big ideas come together. It’s for an audience that “relishes the opportunity to brain up rather than dumb down,” she said. Unsurprisingly, she pointed to Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Solar System as a good example and said that BBC2 would soon see historians Mary Beard and Amanda Vickery front a pair of new factual series on BBC2. She named Andrew Marr, Simon Schama, Michael Moseley, Dan Snow and Alice Roberts as key BBC2 faces, arguing that they are “engaging, articulate proselytisers for what they know…they have genuine, unimpeachable, real knowledge." Hadlow added: “I think there is a bull market on cleverness out there if we have the will to grasp it."
2. Curious about the world. Hadlow reckons that BBC2 is a good place to make sense of great events. As an example she cited The Love of Money, last year’s series about the financial crisis. BBC2 can also open up hidden worlds. She’s a fan of Welcome to Lagos, calling it “ a truly conscious-altering observational documentary…it shows that BBC2 is about challenging our picture of how the world works as well as seeking to explain it.” Hadlow added that Lambing Live is perhaps the show she’s most proud of, arguing that it opened up a dimension of British life that doesn’t often a look in on TV.
3. Culturally engaged. Hadlow wants to showcase arts docs and feature “confident expressions of expertise across a heady variety of subjects” on the channel. Citing last year’s poetry season with Simon Schama on John Donne and Armando Iannucci on John Milton, she said there was an upcoming season of opera programmes as well as a series on literature presented by Sebastian Faulks called The Secret Life of The Novel. Meanwhile, Melvyn Bragg is working on a series about culture and class that will air in a couple of years. Music seems to be a particular priority. “I’m keen to find ways of giving documentaries about popular music a more confident presence on the channel.” Above all, she’s after “grown up, witty interrogation of popular culture.”
4. The importance of being mainstream. BBC2, reckons Hadlow, is about a mixed economy of programmes that can intelligently entertain and authoritatively inform. Popular formats like Victorian Farm can “become something of real substance” on BBC2. She thinks the old dichotomy between high and low brow is much less apparent now, pointing out that the same person can effortlessly move between Masterchef and the documentary Great Ormond Street.
5. Entertaining. “A big channel cannot live by factual programming alone,” said Hadlow. “Audiences want a channel to have a heart as well as a head. That’s why comedy and drama are so important to BBC2.” Comedy is key to Hadlow, although she thinks it’s been marginalised recently. Recent highlights included The Thick of It and Miranda, with the latter in the tradition of the good-hearted 1970s classic The Good Life. Meanwhile, single drama will continue to be important to BBC2 but she wants a greater presence for series and serials. Here Hadlow cited Our Friends in the North as an example of the kind of “thoughtful, ambitious stories that reflect modern experience” that she is after. She also plans to open up the market for literary adaptations, looking beyond 19th Century classics of English literature to French and Russian novels as well as contemporary British novels. But it doesn’t have to be high literature - it could mean genre fiction such as clever thrillers or thoughtful sci-fi.
Televisual is running an interview with Sky1 director of programmes Stuart Murphy in the May issue. It’s almost a year since Murphy joined Sky from indie Twofour.
In part of the interview, Murphy sets out his programme shopping list for the year ahead. The biggest opportunities, he says, are in factual and features.
Although it’s best not to pitch ideas where an expert host is the star. “I am bored of seeing those expert shows where they walk up the garden path and knock on the door. And I’m also slightly bored of seeing a self-consciously controversial host who is more of focus in the programme than the members of the public.”
Sky1 hit Pineapple Dance Studios has made its mark in terms of commissioning at the broadcaster. “Pineapple Dance Studios has really shown that with a bit of silliness but high production values you can really break the mould of fly on the wall documentaries. I’d love to have conversations with producers about what are those genres we can mix with other genres. Is it that we do music and cookery, for instance (we’re not planning that!). I’d love to have that creative discussion about the mixes.”
Sky runs three big entertainment shows a year and is currently booked up in terms of the genre. “We probably don’t need that many more big entertainment shows,” says Murphy. Likewise, Sky’s not on the hunt for new daytime shows.
Meanwhile, Sky is moving on in terms of drama. It’s had good success with book adaptations recently such as Martina Cole’s The Take and there’s the upcoming Terry Pratchett adaptation Going Postal and Chris Ryan’s Strike Back. But, says Murphy, he’s now looking for dramas that “aren’t necessarily based on book adaptations.”
For full interview and further details see Televisual’s May issue
There’s a degree of cautious optimism ahead of this year’s annual TV programme sales market, MipTV (April 12-16).
The mood going into 2010’s Cannes market is certainly different to last April’s edition, which was held in the depths of the recession.
There’s likely to be a particular focus on drama and new formats. If you have new drama at the market, it’s going to be very much in demand as there’s not been an awful lot of new drama commissioned over the last year. The formats market is still buoyant too. But there’s been very few new formats hitting screens recently - mostly it’s been recommissions.
“I get a sense that for the right show, there is definitely more of a buzz around than there was six months ago,” says Louise Pederson, managing director of All3Media International.
Televisual canvassed several distributors for their take on the market for our April edition. Here’s what they had to say:
Chief operating officer, RDF Rights
One thing that will be an issue at this year’s MipTV is programme supply. There is likely to be a shortage of new format ideas, because last year commissioning was risk-averse with more re-commissions and fewer original ideas. There’s also been a big shift in the market – the distinctions between high end cable buyers and terrestrial buyers are beginning to disappear. Last year we had an absolutely fantastic year with high end cable channels, because they were more insulated from recession. Our top 15 clients for in 2009 were dramatically different from the previous year - which is very unusual.
Director, TVF International
One really interesting area is ad funded programming. I don’t think I’ve seen so many ad agencies going to MipTV as I have this year. With the guidelines becoming more relaxed it’s an area producers need to be taking notice of. There’s no doubt that overall the tide has turned and this year’s MipTV will be much busier. That’s going to be true for factual in particular, a genre which has tended to fare better in the downturn because programmes can be made more cheaply and can be turned around relatively quickly. The kind of shows which buyers have responded to internationally are those with an upbeat theme.
Managing director i-Rights, Digital Rights Group
We expect to see a surge in demand for 3d at this year’s MipTV, driven by the launch in 2010 of 3d channels at a time when there’s not a huge amount of 3d content available. We are interested in making strategic investments in 3d content. But at this stage it’s so early in the whole evolution of 3d it’ll be more about levels of interest rather than actual sales. The key driver will be the availability and affordability of the 3d sets to consumers. In a depressed economic environment where a lot of people have replaced their TVs in recent years, take up is more likely to be gradual rather than there being a stampede at retailers.
Managing director, Highpoint Media Group
I’m quite optimistic about this year’s MipTV being at least as busy as last year’s Mipcom - which was fantastically busy, particular when compared to MipTV in 2009. This time last year the market was really flat – we had an empty stand opposite us which was really depressing! The last quarter of 2009 saw an enormous surge in business and I expect that trend which has been going on for the last six months to continue. On 3d I’m going to wait and see. The number of times I have heard that 3d is the next big thing and six months later nothing has happened. The one thing about 3d is that it has to be fantastic quality. I did see 3d promos in Berlin where the quality was questionable and you can’t sell rubbish.