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September 2018
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Reports&
surveys

Production 100 2011 Back to Reports & survey Listing

Which broadcasters do indies think are the best and worst to work with? Producers give their views on the BBC, ITV, C4, C5, Sky, Discovery and others

Every year, the Production 100 asks producers what they think about their broadcaster clients. On a strictly off-the-record basis, we ask indies to name the best, worst and most improved broadcasters they deal with – and to explain their thinking. The result is the equivalent of an annual school report for broadcasters, by those that know them best.

The BBC

As always, the corporation is the most remarked upon broadcaster, emerging as both the best and worst broadcaster according to indie votes. Its status as the biggest commissioner in the UK means that it is the focus of the most indie opinion, be that negative or positive.

On the plus side, “open” and “straightforward” are two words which crop up many times when indies describe their dealings with the corporation. Producers say they welcome the “access to management and clarity of briefs”, “considered responses,” “speed of reply” and “support” that they get from the BBC.

There’s a feeling from many that the BBC genuinely seems to be making an effort to communicate better with indies. “The BBC has improved in its attempts to establish a better relationship with the sector and reduce the time spent on over complex commissioning and editorial procedures,” comments one indie producer. “The BBC seem to be taking on board indie feedback and becoming more reasonable to deal with and reasonable in their expectations,” adds another indie.

For all the positive comments, though, there are plenty of indies that feel shut out and disgruntled with the corporation. Many complain about the BBC’s “poor response times”, which are blamed on “bureaucracy”, ”too much red tape” and its “Kafka-esque politics, hierarchy and cliques.”

The BBC’s “protracted commissioning process” is a significant issue. Says one indie, “BBC commissioners are getting much harder to draw over the line to a commission”, while another adds: “The BBC takes far too long to take decisions and often requires extensive meetings and production discussions before losing interest.”

The financial cuts at the corporation are also having an impact, according to feedback. “They repeatedly tell you they have no money which is a disincentive to pitch to them first,” believes one indie. Another argues that commissioning is being driven by a “how low can you go?” mentality and says that there is “duality of pricing between inhouse production and independent production.” Concludes another: “The BBC is great creatively but payment is a constant problem. A huge organisation like Disney pays suppliers within a matter of days. With the BBC it’s not unusual for it to take months.”

Channel 4

Channel 4 is, once again, voted the second best broadcaster to deal with – and the most improved broadcaster overall. There’s been a real change in the perception of C4 in the indie market over the last year, with many companies saying it is open to a wider range of indies under new bosses David Abraham and Jay Hunt.

“C4 is clearly entering a new phase and wants to embrace new companies and take risks”, says one, a point echoed by a fellow indie who adds: “C4 is making real efforts to work with new and smaller independents and this needs to be applauded.” “Jay has made a big difference to how the channel treats indies,” reports one producer, with another adding “C4 is still too London-centric and too reliant on a small number of indies but there is evidence that Jay Hunt is beginning to tackle this issue.”

C4’s fans say it “takes meetings”, “responds quickly to pitches” and is “adventurous in its ambition” and has “a strong understanding of the multiplatform world.” It is also “fast, straightforward and supportive,” says another.

Other indies – but notably fewer than in recent years – are harsher. The complaints are familiar – that C4 is “smug and the commissioners give all their commissions to their mates” and that C4 remains “more London centric than ever – they don’t even bother replying to pitches unless you’re one of their favoured companies.” Some lambast C4 for “indecisiveness” and being “rude.”

Sky

Sky rises up to third place in the best broadcaster stakes this year, with many indies enthused by its pledge to spend more on home grown programming. “It is actually spending money on new production,” notes one, while another adds “it is now committed to UK content.”

Additionally there’s plenty of praise for Sky for being “straightforward” and “quick in its decision making.” One producer cites Sky’s “quick, honest, answers in pitches (and once commissioned)”, adding: “The commissioners know what they want and why their audience would respond to it, and they put their money where their mouth is.”

Yet another says, “Sky has a lean team who can make quick decisions, respect the skills of indies and really back the projects they are committed to.”

Criticism of Sky is focused almost entirely on its terms of business. “Despite its immense wealth, it’s becoming intransigent in negotiations and increasingly difficult in budget negotiation,” complains one indie. Others hit out at Sky’s “poor terms of trade” and say it has “no interest in the long term health of independents.”

Discovery

Next up is Discovery, which takes fourth place in the best broadcaster results – the first time it has come ahead of terrestrial rivals ITV and C5. Discovery is praised for “clearly defined needs, fast decision making and increasingly transparent deals.” It’s a point echoed by another indie which notes Discovery’s “clear commissioning rounds, business affairs and legal processes.”

Discovery UK is mentioned for its “great friendly team”, while Discovery US is described as “realistic about the cost of production and how much it needs to pay to achieve its vision – it’s also practical and run by people who understand how finance and editorial go hand in hand.”

On the downside, one indie describes Discovery as “cripplingly indecisive.”

ITV
ITV is next in the best broadcaster stakes, but with significantly fewer votes than in recent years. Says one indie: “We have a great relationship with ITV. They leave us to get on with it, trust us and our judgement and say no to an idea in about two hours.”

Another reports that it has had “a tremendously rewarding experience working with CITV in the last year.” But there is a strong feeling that ITV is “not really open to new suppliers” and that “it is turning itself into a closed shop and the lack of diversity is beginning to show on screen.”

In one long rant, an indie complains: “They waste time, making you jump through millions of hoops, leading you to believe that you have a commission, asking for detailed budgets and a production schedule, and then advise you at the 13th hour that they have changed their minds, for no discernible reason. Very frustrating. Also, they are greedy and aggressive commercially, ignoring standard terms of trade. We were forced to enter a co-production deal on one commission, or get no commission at all. They wanted to keep their back office staff in work out of our production budget. We contacted Pact about this and Pact stated that these tactics were becoming more common.”

Channel 5

Channel 5 fails to pick up a single vote in the best broadcaster category. It earns a few votes in the most improved broadcaster category for “a clearer vision” and praise for boss Jeff Ford, “a fabulous TV exec – with him at the helm things are getting done.” But, say indies, there’s a “lack of slots and funding.”

One comments: “C5 is not hard to deal with day to day, but it’s hard to get a sense of what it is able to commission now and if it has any commissioning budget.” Other hit out at Channel 5 for being “contemptuous of the Terms of Trade.” Comments one producer: “It seems hell bent on destroying the independent sector and destroying the Terms of Trade.”

BEST BROADCASTER TO DEAL WITH
1 BBC
2 Channel 4
3 Sky
4 Discovery
5 ITV

HARDEST BROADCASTER TO DEAL WITH
1 BBC
2 Channel 4
3 Five
4 ITV
5 Sky

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