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November 2018

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Production 100 2009 Back to Reports & survey Listing

Best and worst broadcasters

Which broadcasters do indies think are the best to work with? And which do they find the most infuriating? Tim Dams sifts through off the record  producer feedback to the Production 100 survey to reveal all

The Production 100 survey isn’t just a portrait of the independent production sector, but also an opportunity for companies to reveal how their broadcaster clients are treating them. We ask indies, on a strictly off the record basis, to tell us which are the best and worst broadcasters they deal with.

Reflecting their continued dominance of the commissioning market, it’s the terrestrial broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, C4 and Five – that garner most of the comments here.

The BBC, in particular, dominates the feedback, emerging simultaneously as the best, worst and most improved broadcaster. It’s a situation that neatly underscores just how significant the recession-proof corporation has become in the business lives of indie producers. Compared to its weakened commercial rivals, the BBC’s spending power is hugely important. Those who can’t get business with it feel shut out, angry and frustrated, while those who can say they appreciate it in tough economic times.

From the feedback Televisual receives, it’s clear the recession is making broadcaster relations with indies more fraught. “All broadcasters are looking to get more programming and a greater share of rights for less money,” says one respondent to the survey. Another adds: “Often there is an assumption that producers submit inflated prices for programmes and therefore everything can be cut. This means every negotiation is difficult and prolonged and doesn’t always result in savings because we submitted a low budget or a budget with a known deficit in the first place. This doesn’t help relationships between broadcaster and producer.”

The BBC is considered the hardest broadcaster to deal with, according to 41% of indies. As usual, the corporation’s legendary bureaucracy is the main issue, with producers citing its “labyrinthine structure” and “inaccessibility.”

A number of new gripes about the BBC emerge in 2009. Firstly, there’s a widespread feeling the BBC has become more risk averse in the wake of Queengate. “Thought police permeate all aspects of decision making,” says one indie. Secondly, there has been a rise in the complaints about the BBC’s business affairs department, with adjectives such as “slow” and “unreasonable” used to describe dealings with indies. Thirdly, a number of producers complain about the BBC’s “disdain for indies” and its “lack of understanding in the requirements of its suppliers.”

ITV comes in behind the BBC in the hardest to deal with stakes with 27% of the vote. This marks a significant deterioration in ITV’s standing with indies; last year its vote was in the low single figures. ITV’s declining commissioning budget is a key reason for many indies’ vote. Smaller indies also say ITV is “the hardest broadcaster to get into”, while others complain about “the poor terms of trade they offer.”

In third place is C4, with 20% of the vote. “They are glacially slow to respond to ideas,” moans one indie, echoing the sentiments of many other producers. Budgets are also a big problem, with numerous indies pointing out that the broadcaster wants the same quality of show, but for far less money.

Meanwhile, highlighting its size and reach with indies, the BBC is voted the best broadcaster to deal with, winning 37% of the vote - significantly up on last year’s 27% vote.

For many it simply comes down to the BBC’s commissioning ability: “They still have some money,” says one respondent. However plenty of indies praise the BBC for being “very clear about its priorities” and for having “good clear commissioners who can make decisions.”

Channel 4 is the second best broadcaster, taking 23% – again an improvement on last year’s 18% vote. While its detractors lambast C4’s slow commissioning process, there are many who say it “responds promptly” and is “relatively quick” to commission. Others praise its understanding of the indie sector: “They provide good responsible back up,” says one. “They understand the requirements of their suppliers and are proactive in this outlook,” adds another.

In third place is Five, taking 13% of the vote. It’s “responsive, reasonable and approachable,” and “doesn’t have layers of decision makers.”  Fourth placed Sky, meanwhile, “is prompt to reply” and “very straightforward.”

The best broadcasters
Several indies say the BBC is the “clearest, most direct of all broadcasters”. The corporation is rated for its “quick decisions” and “good, clear commissioners.” BBC Daytime, in particular, is praised for its “quick decisions, straight forward commissioning processes, execs that complete viewings on time and then give clear feedback.” Other say the BBC offers “straightforward deal terms” and “understands the value of co-producing without thinking they can have it all for free.”

Channel 4
Channel 4 “provides good responsible back up and understands the indie sector.” Moreover, it “always gives a prompt response either way” and “can commission fairly quickly, while “the contractual process is quick.” The music and entertainment team is singled out by one indie, which says “they have a will to make new music productions work, get even better and remain on air.” Others cite C4 for “clear briefs and a great business affairs department.”

Five, says one indie, “understands the commercial realities of programme making and is quick and straightforward to deal with.” The broadcaster is praised for its “good business dealings, unfussy commissioning process” and for being “responsive, reasonable and approachable.”

Sky is “prompt to reply and gives full feedback as to why it does/doesn’t like an idea.” One producer finds Sky is “responsive, flexible, focused”, while another votes for the broadcaster because “they respect what we do for them.”

“When ITV commissioners make up their minds, they commission and tell you when they want the shows and the business affairs process is straightforward,” reports one producer. Others note that ITV “are very clear with what they want.”

Living is “straightforward, simple and clear. There’s no budget arguments. They are thankful and considerate commissioners, who work with your teams.”

The worst broadcasters
“Cumbersome. Bureaucratic. Arrogant. No sense of its real purpose. Dire commissioning structure.” That’s the verdict of one disgruntled producer on the BBC. Many other indies complain that the BBC is “inflexible,” inaccessible”, “slow to respond,” “labyrinthine.” Others hit out at the BBC for “cutting budgets when they don’t have a credit crisis.” The BBC has also become “risk averse” in the wake of Queengate. “There’s often a knee jerk reaction to events in the press rather than a considered approach to new issues.”

ITV’s financial woes are the reason many indies say it is the hardest to deal with. “It is having the hardest time and doen’t buy many of our shows any more,” moans one indie. Others lambast ITV for the “poor terms of trade it offers,” for being “remote and inaccessible” and for being a “closed shop” particularly to smaller indies. “It’s very hard to work out their needs,” says one indie.

Channel 4
“What they commission bears no resemblance to what they say they are,” complains one indie of C4. “There are still too many preferred suppliers, and it is very difficult to get meetings,” adds another. Falling budgets are a major bugbear: “They are not clear in their expectations or how these relate to the money on offer. Others lambast C4 for being “sluggish to respond.” Indies variously describe C4 as “smug”, “incredibly slow to pay” and with a “culture of fear.”

Five’s “constant changes in commissioning teams have created a culture of uncertainty – and it seems to be abandoning factual programming despite it long being a bedrock of their success,” says one indie. “Richard Woolfe only knows one note when commissioning,” argues another.

Discovery’s “punitive attitude to backend deals and strictness over what is allowed in their budgets,” upsets one indie, while its “all embracing acquisition policy when it comes to all rights is more and more of a problem, particularly when they do not exploit all the rights acquired,” argues another.

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