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Production 100, 2016 Back to Reports & survey Listing

Broadcaster Reputations

Which broadcasters do producers think are best and hardest to deal with? Here indies reveal how they are treated by their commissioning clients.

There’s been considerable change among senior executives at UK broadcasters, notably the BBC, ITV and Sky, which many indies say has created big commissioning delays over the past year. Charter renewal at the BBC, the threat of privatisation at C4 and a review of the terms of trade have also conspired to make indie dealings with broadcasters that bit more challenging in 2016.

The broadcaster poll rarely makes happy reading for the BBC, with positive feedback often dwarfed by negative votes.

Yet again, the BBC is voted the hardest broadcaster to deal with. Some 36% said it is the hardest broadcaster to deal with.

Negative feedback about the BBC invariably includes the words ‘slow’ or ‘bureaucratic’. One indie complains of ‘internal confusion and achingly slow decision making’.

Others say it is very difficult to get clear information from the BBC. ‘There’s terrible communication on market opportunities and slot gaps,’ says one. The BBC is ‘unwieldy, bureaucratic and caught up in its own machinations’ notes one producer, with others complaining of ‘musical chairs at the channels.’

A producer notes: ‘They say they are open for business and want new ideas but in reality they simply aren’t as fleet of foot or instinctive as other broadcasters. The new channel structure has created a backlog too.’

On the plus side, 18% of indies said the BBC is the best broadcaster, behind C4 and ITV. The BBC ‘can take ages to decide on a project but is more straightforward (than C4) once you are working with them.’

One says the BBC is ‘supportive, with great commissioners’. Another cites the BBC’s ‘good, collaborative commissioning team – although it has been very slow in the absence of a BBC2 boss.’ One indie says: ‘The BBC is properly engaged with indies for the first time. Maybe it is even getting over the terms of trade resentment that has been an underscore to all business conversations for the last 10 years.’

Channel 4
C4 polarises producers. For the second year in a row it is voted the best broadcaster. But it is also ranked second hardest broadcaster to deal with.

Positive comments about C4 emphasise a supportive commissioning team who are responsive, creative and collaborative.C4 has ‘the most creatively engaged team of commissioners and their business affairs team is quick and responsive’, says one indie.

Several underline that C4 is prepared to back new ideas and aspirations. ‘The commissioning team, although very picky are brilliant in production,’ says one producer. ‘C4 encourages innovation, inspiring you to come up with your best work.’

This praise is often countered with criticism from other indies though. There are three key areas of complaint. Firstly, several indies say that department heads at C4 are ‘powerless’ with ‘all decisions made by channel head Jay Hunt’ – which is a ‘slow and frustrating process’.

Others raise concerns about C4’s investments in indie producers creating conflicts of interest. ‘There is less and less transparency about their commissioning process now that they have invested in production companies,’ says one producer.
The third area of complaint is about ‘cultural micro-management’ of projects ‘which too often makes their films worse. 

‘Commissioners at C4 tend to behave like execs and are very hands on – it is the luck of the draw whether you are working with someone who is a great programme-maker or someone who either isn’t or who is second-guessing Jay Hunt.’


ITV generally has a good reputation, although its standing has slipped somewhat thanks to big changes in its commissioning team.

20% of indies say ITV is the best broadcaster to work with – putting it in second place. By comparison, 7% say it is the hardest broadcaster to deal with. The indies who have positive things to say about ITV say that its small commissioning team is quick to respond, clear and straightforward. ITV is ‘fast and supportive in editorial’, has ‘clear briefs’, ‘reasonable budgets’ and makes ‘long term commitments to projects’. It also ‘pays on time.’

Several indies pick out the daytime team at ITV for praise. ‘They really value production talent, respect and support us’.
Criticism of ITV focuses on the ‘turbulence within commissioning’ that followed the departure of director of TV Peter Fincham.
Others note that ITV will not cashflow productions, and some call ITV ‘difficult’ and ‘mercurial’.

As Sky has become a growing player in the commissioning market, so too has the feedback it gets in the Production 100.

Opinions on Sky are more positive than negative. 11% rate Sky as the best broadcaster, 5% the hardest.

Lots of indies use the word ‘straightforward’ to describe Sky’s commissioning team. Sky is ‘the most straightforward and will make decisions quicker than other broadcasters,’ says one indie.

Sky ‘allows editorial independence while providing positive support and guidance’, says one indie, adding that its ‘strong industry financial knowledge allows realistic budget negotiations.’ ‘Sky is tough at negotiating, but once you are up and running they are very responsive and supportive. It has a great outward looking perspective.’

Detractors say Sky has ‘erratic commissioning decisions’. One indie complains that when you pitch, ‘you get a once sentence brush off with no encouragement to pitch again.’

Channel 5
The stock of C5 seems to have fallen somewhat since the improvement noted in last year’s Production 100. 9% of indies say C5 is the best broadcaster to deal with, but more – 14% - say it is the hardest.

The complaints are largely about budgets and business affairs. There’s a ‘mismatch between editorial ambitions and available budgets’, says one indie. Another criticises C5’s ‘poor payment systems and deteriorating contract terms with producers’.  C5 is ‘very tricky with the terms of trade’, notes one indie.

On the plus side, C5 is ‘direct, efficient and clear about what it wants and why it wants it’. Others say that C5 is ‘the most responsive and mischievous’ and gives ‘fast and constructive feedback’ during the production process.

Discovery has ramped up commissioning in the UK in recent years, and earns plaudits from a number of indies.

Discovery ‘is willing to have grown up conversations about editorial and budget and has people who understand programme making in both its editorial and business affairs divisions.’ Another cites Discovery’s ‘transparency in budgeting, quick response times and straightforward production process’.

UKTV’s push into commissioning new shows has broadened its indie supply base.

Indies praise its ‘simple lines of communications.’ Another says: ‘UKTV has a flat structure, decisive execs, is pleasant to deal with and has a culture of commissioning meetings with every department represented so everyone from scheduling to press and PR sing from the same sheet.’

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