BSkyB. The national press. The terms of trade. These were just three of the targets of Mark Thompson’s ire in a wide ranging MacTaggart speech that saw the BBC director general go on the offensive after months of attacks against the corporation.
It lacked the rhetorical flourish of classic MacTaggart speeches, but in a workmanlike way he set out a convincing case for a BBC that was widely supported and respected by the general public.
“Support for the licence-fee is as high, if not higher, today than it was when Alan Peacock wrote his report on the future of broadcasting for Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Then there were four channels. Now there are hundreds,” said Thompson.
Thompson went directly on the offensive against Sky, in particular for failing to invest in British production. “It’s time that Sky pulled its weight by investing much, much more in British talent and British content,” said Thompson, who added that Sky spent around £100m in non-news, non-sport content - “not much more than Channel Five’s UK origination budget this year, despite the fact that Sky’s total turnover is more than fifteen times that of Five’s.”
“Sky’s marketing budget is larger than the entire programme budget of ITV1. As a proportion of Sky’s own turnover and its profits, its investment in original British content is just not enough.”
Thompson also said that Sky should pay public service outfits ITV, C4 and Five to carry their services on the BSkyB platform, which would help raise additional funds for the cash-strapped commercial broadcasters. Currently, the PSBs pay a charge for being carried on the Sky platform.
Thompson commented: “Sky is already a far more powerful commercial counterweight to the BBC than ITV ever was. It is well on its way to being the most dominant force in broadcast media in this country. Moreover, if News Corp’s proposal to acquire all of the remaining shares in Sky goes through, Sky will not just be Britain’s biggest broadcaster, but a full part of a company which is also dominant in national newspapers as well as one of the Britain’s biggest publishers.” It would be, he added, “a concentration of cross-media ownership which would not be allowed in the United States or Australia.”
Thompson said that if Sky invested more in British programming it would help make up for a £300m decline in production funding that has opened up since 2004 as a result of a fall in ad revenue at commercial broadcasters. “Between 2004 and today, the pot is estimated to have declined from around £2.9 billion to £2.6 billion,” said Thompson.
Attacking the terms of trade
Thompson caught the independent production sector by surprise by saying that the Terms of Trade should be renegotiated.
Clearly feeling that the Terms of Trade had had a negative impact on the income of broadcasters and their subsequent ability to spend on commissioning, Thompson said: “The current Terms of Trade did a good job helping to strengthen the indie sector: setting it on the path to its present success, and ending the bad old days when broadcasters held all the cards. However, the current pace of change affecting broadcasters, together with the scale and ownership of the independent sector, means it is the right time to take a fresh look at whether the current arrangements for contracting with broadcasters are flexible enough."
Attacking Contracts Rights Renewal
Thompson went on to speak in support of ITV’s campaign to renegotiate the Contracts Rights Renewal system.
“The UK needs a market in TV advertising which functions effectively, but it also needs to be a market in which ad-funded broadcasters can be confident enough of commercial success that they invest in quality content. Arrangements which risk a downward spiral of falling prices and disinvestment in programming will end up serving no one ⎯not advertisers, and certainly not the British public.”
Attacking the press
After a year of press attacks on the BBC over issues such as executive pay, Jonathan Ross’s salary, the corporation’s pension crisis and bureaucratic waste, Thompson hit back. “Systematic press attacks on broadcasters, and especially on the BBC, are nothing new of course ⎯ the first hostile campaigns began back in John Reith’s day ⎯ but the scale and intensity of the current assaults does feel different,” he said.
“Some newspapers appear to print something hostile about the BBC every week, even though the reporters often freely admit to us that they know the story is ramped up, distorted or just plain nonsense.
“And that’s true even of the readers of those papers which are most consistently hostile to the BBC. Across the UK population, 71% of people say they’re glad the BBC exists. Among readers of the Daily Mail, it’s 74%. The Telegraph, 82%. The Times, 83%. The Sunday Times, 85%. Not only do these newspapers fail to reflect the view of the majority of the British public about the BBC. They don’t even reflect the view of the majority of their own readers.”
One of the most enjoyable sessions of the Edinburgh TV festival was Hat Trick boss Jimmy Mulville’s Richard Dunn memorial lecture.
In a speech about how market research and business consultants are killing creativity in television, Mulville also dealt with Hat Trick’s near collapse in the mid-2000s after an investment bank bought into the Have I Got News For You? producer and the indie took on huge debts.
But the speech was also memorable for Mulville’s asides and jokes about everybody from the BBC to Channel Five and James Murdoch.
Here’s a selection of them:
On the BBC:
“Instituting a vast building programme up and down the land the like of which has not been seen since the days of Mussolini.”
On Channel 5
“They haven’t made a decent show since they started and now they’ve been bought by a porn baron – you couldn’t make it up.”
“Defined to a large degree by its huge entertainment brands. What would happen tomorrow if Simon Cowell went under a bus? God Forbid.”
On Peter Salmon and Salford:
“What is slightly surprising is that Peter Salmon it appears is refusing to sell up down here and buy up north. Really Peter? As you know, Peter has been anointed Mark Thompson’s representative on earth in the newly created fiefdom in the North West. Odd signal to give the troops. Perhaps we’ll find out more about the reasons for his decision in his session on Sunday, called ‘Leading From The Back.’ Sorry, that was cheap, but then, so is housing in Salford Peter.
On James Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture last year:
"Did anyone see James Murdoch last year? I thought Baby Murdoch did quite well. I think Papa Murdoch would have been proud. To be honest, to begin with I struggled with his slightly strange delivery. It was a sort of cross between an American newsreader and the voice of a sat nav. But I did think he made some good sound points about the BBC being in areas it really had no business being in, that its cultural imperialism was choking competition in the area of online news delivery – all well thought out arguments made in a reasonable fashion.
So far so good I thought, but increasingly you had a growing feeling that he was just channelling Papa Murdoch and by the end of the speech as he become slightly more agitated, like some wires were shorting out in the mainframe – I thought I could hear a faint buzzing - he was sounding like a post-modern Gordon Gecko. The quest for profit isn’t only good, he claimed, it will protect you from a sinister state controlled media and no doubt cure erectile dysfuction.
I loved his portrayal of the BBC as some infernal state controlled efficient, well-oiled machine. Obviously he’s never made a programme for them. “
On the creative culture of the BBC:
“On a bad day like a 3.2 billion pounded funded parish council.”
On ITV’s new leadership team:
“It will be fascinating to see how things unfold on the South Bank where the two new boys are determined to bring a sharp focus to ITV. Adam and Archie, TVs new Ant and Dec.”
Advertiser Funded Programming (AFP) has been around since the 1930s when brands such as Proctor and Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive funded daytime dramas in the US – and the soap opera was born.
Until recently, however, examples of AFP were relatively scarce on British television. In particular, it was mistrusted by commissioning editors who disliked the idea of advertisers being closely involved in programme-making.
The recession has changed all that. Now, jokes one producer, you can barely get a commission at some cash-strapped broadcasters unless you walk in the door with an AFP deal.
In recent months, example, shows such as Five's Chinese Food in Minutes and Family Food Fight, were backed by Sharwoods and Flora respectively. Likewise, More4’s TV Book Club (pictured) was recently funded by Specsavers.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that a session titled The Branded Entertainment: Goldmine or Minefield? was packed out at last month’s Edinburgh TV Festival.
Here the four panellists give their views on the growing area of advertiser funded programming
Paul Day Vp branded entertainment and digital media, Cineflix Productions
Branded entertainment projects continue to grow in both size and frequency. An increasing range of advertisers are looking to connect with consumers in more inventive ways, engagement rather than interruption being the key for many. Cineflix believes that each project must fulfill the usual creative criteria before being associated with a brand. Stakeholders should then be engaged, with content specialists at media agencies working alongside broadcaster and production company to manage brand expectations from a creative and regulatory point of view. It is also key that other media are involved to increase media value across the board.
Founding partner, Krempelwood
The will is there for the UK AFP market to grow from an estimated £15m in 2010 to £150m+ within five years. Successful TV shows are difficult to conceive. Creating them from a brand brief as a start point is an immense challenge. The vast majority of AFPs will find their way to air via producers charged with finding the funding for programming that broadcasters want to commission. Producers need to get their programmes in front of brands and demonstrate how the brand can be integrated into the programme and effectively market the brand. Krempelwood was formed specifically to fulfil this function and in the process build a conduit for brand briefs to the production community.
CEO, beActive Entertainment Branded entertainment is becoming more and more important as audience habits shift from live, linear broadcasts, to an On-demand, PVR based or Internet based consumption of moving images. With this paradigm shift, audiences are now able to skip ad breaks. Branded entertainment and product placement are two ways of putting the brands inside the content, so audiences can’t skip through them. But the big advantage is that if the brand is really integrated with the content, the impact will be higher than the traditional 30 seconds ad. As audiences tend to love shows and their characters, audiences will then start to engage at an emotional level with brands and products.
Content partnership planner, ITV Commercial
Branded content has been around since the original “soaps” but it is enjoying a renaissance thanks largely to the current economic climate and the possible product placement changes. Projects with ITV have ranged from CITV to ITV1 peak, from factual to sport. The only limitations are the number of advertisers with the desire and understanding to take on projects and the quality of ideas generated – ultimately the job is to entertain our audiences. Branded content delivers better results if a client buys into a wide media strategy, of which a branded entertainment programme is just one part. We always urge clients and producers to come to us in the early stages of development to ensure it is something of interest to ITV’s commissioners before further work is undertaken.
Four documentary commissioning editors gave their verdict on the state of docs at Televisual’s Intelligent Factual Festival last month. Surprisingly, they were uniformly upbeat, despite the downturn. Here's what they had to say:
Channel 4, deputy head of documentaries
We’re feeling incredibly buoyant about docs at Channel 4 and I think the BBC has got every right to feel pretty buoyant as well in many ways. It’s a golden age for docs. There are different ways of making them, there are different ways of getting them to the audience and there are different ways of funding them. As well as the special BAFTA winning singles that everybody loves that make a splash, we’re doing bigger, longer runs of more dynamic and innovative series than I can ever remember doing before. I would say that there’s no need for doom or gloom. I think quite the opposite is true and docs are in rude health.
BBC, commissioning executive for documentaries
I genuinely believe that this is a really amazing time for docs and it’s no coincidence, because we are probably living in the most interesting time in Britain since Thatcher. Frankly, it would be pretty grim if we couldn't attend to it and interrogate it. There’s so much to interrogate – the welfare state’s collapsing and the reason people are coming to real stories, unmediated, is that they’re living it, and they want to know a little bit more about it and put it in context. There are two things going on: people want to see themselves, like in C4’s One Born Every Minute, and they want to see other worlds like BBC2’s Welcome to Lagos. You can have both.
More 4 / True Stories, commissioning editor
True Stories is a strand that showcases the best films from around the world. I think digital television has provided a platform for those films to exist. We commission 40 films a year for True Stories and I think it would be difficult to imagine that they would exist on a terrestrial broadcaster, so I think digital has grown that opportunity. The platforms have created a new market. In terms of the content, it’s fantastic. I’m extremely optimistic. We can find those 40 films quite easily. There are just so many films out there, and we can give viewers a chance to experience those documentaries.
Current TV, director of content
We’ve basically opened up the whole channel to new filmmakers. As well as the very esoteric passion projects that are normally associated with first time filmmakers, we’re encouraging people to come to us with format ideas and series. I would love to have a returnable format on the channel. I see Current as a real stepping stone. I don’t see our channel necessarily as a massive contender for the larger channels. It would be foolish to think that, but I strongly believe we exist to kind of give new television producers a slice of the broadcast pie that they may not have had before. That’s important for creating diversity within the industry.