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Production 100 2012 Back to Reports & survey Listing

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.

Channel 4
Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham pledged, back in January 2011, to open up the broadcaster to a wider range of indie suppliers and to make it more accessible to new ideas, talent and companies.

And it appears the channel has delivered on this pledge, according to feedback from indies. For the first time in years, C4 is voted the best broadcaster to deal with by indies. “There’s a willingness to take risks and work with new people,” says one indie, while another adds: “There’s lots of appetite for new shows. It’s difficult as decision making is centralised, but ultimately they want to commission which has to be good.” Several regional indies say C4 is making more effort to work with companies outside the M25: “They are much more open and inclusive to smaller regional indies than before.” “C4 has definitely improved under [chief creative officer] Jay Hunt’s leadership,” says another.

Others describe C4 as “helpful, straightforward and enthusiastic” and say that they understand the demands of independent production and “work constructively and in partnership to find solutions.” Channel 4 “has clear departments dealing with producers needs and good online systems – both enable clarity on many processes.” The business affairs department wins plaudits. “C4 has good finance and legal departments,” says one, while another reports that C4 “pays quickly and is no fuss.”

The positive reports about C4 outweigh the negative by more than three to one – no mean feat in this gossipy, opinionated industry. But, on the downside, several indies report that all the restructuring and changes in commissioning editors under chief creative officer Hunt mean that it is difficult to build long term relationships with the channel.

Several say C4 is too centralised, with “all decisions going through Jay.” “Commissioning editors’ enthusiasm for ideas is often not matched higher up.” Also, says one, “digital commissioning is very slow.” Others lambast C4 for “never answering an email” or “acknowledging programme submissions,” while one comments that negiotiations over contracts “are often not completed until the programme is virtually finished.”

The corporation gets a very mixed report from independent producers, emerging as the second best broadcaster to deal with – but also the hardest to work with. Its status as the biggest commissioner in the UK means that, as always, it is the focus of the most indie opinion, be that negative or positive.

Several indies report a “very positive working relationship” with the BBC. “They treat us as adults - demanding but fair,” says one. “There’s clear decision making and accessibility and efficiency when it comes to signing off a budget,” comments one, while fellow producers praise the BBC for being “approachable and respectful”, for its “strong relationships and clarity”, “straightforward deals” and a “sensible attitude to negotiation.” One producer comments: “They retain a confidence in successful production teams which allow us to make some shows relatively unhindered.”

But the negative comments about the BBC tend to outweigh the positive, certainly in terms of sheer volume. The complaints continue to be as familiar as ever, centring as always on issues about bureaucracy and indecision. “Still a bureaucracy with too many egos, too many layers and too many execs,” says one.

Others, variously, call the BBC “slow moving”, “impenetrable”, “inflexible”. “It’s hard to get responses”, complains one indie, with another citing “systematic indecision, delays, lack of empathy and understanding”. “The BBC appears to lack strategy and there is no communication between commissioning, their business units, the channels themselves and scheduling and marketing,” believes another indie.

The BBC, which has been reducing programme budgets year on year for at least four years, also gets flak from many for its “unrealistic budget expectations.” It has “the lowest licence fees” says another.

Elsewhere, the BBC is criticised for its “complete failure to embrace the multiplatform world”, while another highly regarded indie believes there is still a “deep conflict of interest with inhouse production. We often feel ideas are seeded which later appear as inhouse productions. Inevitably this is because many people have the same idea at the same time, but there is a fundamental  lack of co-operation to develop projects together.”

Finally, the caustic view of one indie takes some beating. “Never has an organisation in the history of the world loved itself quite so much.”

Sky has significantly boosted its spend on UK production this year, and the move has clearly endeared it to many producers. It comes third in the “best broadcaster” table, just ahead of ITV.

On the plus side, many indies report that decisions at Sky are made quickly - something that clearly wins over many producers.

Indies say that Sky is “well funded and very ambitious to make the best content. They are also prepared to take more risks with their commissions.” “They need content – and they keep us busy,” says another.

Others like “access to the management and the clarity of briefs” and describe Sky as “very supportive and fair in deal-making.”
“They know their audience, are willing to spend for success and have a great team of focussed individuals who work together with us to get the very best,” writes one producer. Another picks out factual commissioner Michele Kurland for being “a prompt responder!”

On the downside, indies hit out at Sky for “complicated contract negotiations because of expectations from the channel”, “difficult finance and legal departments” and the “micromanagement of budgets and aggressive deals.” Not all believe Sky is great at getting back to indies. “They are quite bad at responding to ideas or returning calls,” says one producer.

ITV has a famously lean commissioning team, and is praised for “short lines of communication and little bureaucracy.” The broadcaster has, says one producer, “the simplest commissioning system and speed of response.”

Several producers say ITV communicates its needs clearly, on top of timely responses to commissioning and financial issues.
Even those who find it difficult to get ideas away seem to respect the broadcaster. “ITV is good to deal with in a practical sense, and commissioners are quick and responsive but we find the bar is very high for factual programming.” Another likes ITV for being “prepared to look at budgets in line with editorial.”

Some, however, believe ITV is “a closed shop” or think that “their focus is firmly on inhouse production rather than indies.” Others just find it hard to secure work with the broadcaster: “We have failed to make any inroads with ITV despite coming close, albeit this is not necessarily something systematic.”

Several bring up the issue of cash flow, saying the fact that ITV “doesn’t cash flow productions makes life difficult.”

Channel 5
C5 picks up a number of positive votes. One producer likes the broadcaster for its “quick responses and for being easy to deal with and respectful of creatives,” while another praises Five for being “straight talking and giving quick decisions.”

But the negative votes outweigh the positives – and money is at the root of most indies discontent with the broadcaster.

Producers variously criticise C5’s payment terms as well as its “unrealistic budgets and policies.” “Payment terms at C5 are problematic if the producer is cashflowing,” reports one producer, while another adds: “We still don’t work with C5 after many past years of a happy working relationship - enough said.”

Here’s a selection of comments about other broadcasters from indies:
UKTV: “They make so few commissioning decision a year that each one is over analysed…not enough rights available to make the headache worth it.”
Nickelodeon and Disney UK: “The UK arms of the global kids digital channels want to be seen to be in the production business but the actual commitment to UK production is in reality very small.”
National Geographic: “Tough but very efficient"
Travel Channel: “Director of broadcasting Steve Fright is relentlessly honest, sincere, appreciative and knows what rates.”
Discovery: “Have a great relationship with them but it seems impossible to get something away with them.”

1 Channel 4
3 Sky
5 Channel 5
6 Nat Geo
7= Discovery, AETN, Food Network,
     Travel Channel

Hardest Broadcaster to deal with
2=Channel 4
2= ITV
4 Sky
5 C5
6 Disney
7=Discovery, Nat Geo

Most Improved broadcaster
1=Channel 4
1= Sky
5=Channel 5
5= Discovery
7= Nat Geo

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