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October 2017
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Reports&
surveys

Production 100 2010 Back to Reports & survey Listing

Best and worst broadcasters

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

The BBC
The corporation, as always, is the most remarked upon broadcaster, emerging simultaneously as the best, worst and most improved broadcaster according to indie votes. How could this be? Well, the BBC is by far the biggest commissioner in the UK, meaning that it is the focus of most indie opinion, be that negative or positive. On the plus side, some indies say the BBC’s commissioning system has “improved and is more open”. Says one indie: “The BBC is straightforward, businesslike and has improved the decision making process.” Another producer comments: “They have become the easiest to deal with. They have terms agreed by Pact and therefore have a very standard licence. They do not negotiate much and can turn contracts around very quickly.”

BBC commissioners are also picked out. The BBC has “cogent and caring executives, and clear lines of communication” and it’s supportive and reasonable with fast decisions and a focused commissioning team.” The BBC “edges closer to an understanding of how indies work” and “has increased interest in out of London.”

However, the BBC was also voted the hardest broadcaster to deal with. As ever, the main focus of the complaints is BBC bureaucracy. Critical indies highlight its “red tape”, “slow commissioning process”, “unclear administrative structures and over-complex commissioning procedures.” One indie says the corporation’s “ever changing internal structure comes across as bureaucratic and insular.”

In fact, for many, the BBC is still in “its own unreal world.” Comments one indie: “When there is a problem or issue on a production, then there can be a ‘them and us’ attitude to independent companies rather than working through any issues as partners. With all the might, size and resource of the BBC, this can overpower a small independent.”

Notably, there’s been a sharp rise this year in indies complaining about the fact that the BBC is “slow to pay.” It’s a comment that crops up again and again in this year’s survey. One indie simply concludes: “They are rubbish at paying.”

Channel 4
C4 is voted the second best broadcaster to deal with, the same spot as last year. On the plus side, C4 offers “unambiguous and transparent access to key decision makers.” Commissioners are seen as “speedy, direct and fair” and as “quick decision makers compared to the others.” And supportive too. “When they get behind an idea, they support it,” says one indie. Another adds: “They have a reasonable understanding of the indie world and they back us up over any incidents that result once the programme has been broadcast.”

Other indies praise C4 for being “very quick at paying” and for “following the terms of trade and keeping deals clear.” Yet, C4 is also voted second hardest broadcaster to deal with. The recession and C4’s consequent restructures, redundancies and budget cuts have clearly had an impact on C4’s standing amongst producers. “It has no money,” says one producer. “They browse but they don’t buy,” adds another. “The personnel seem to change frequently and they are constantly worried how long they are going to be around,” points out one indie. Worryingly, there are numerous accusations that there is an “increasing lack of belief in smaller indies” at C4.

Sky
Next up in the best broadcaster rankings is Sky – its highest ever placing. It’s been investing more in original content under director of programmes Stuart Murphy, and engaging more with indie producers. The praise all boils down to the same thing – its speed of decision-making. “Sky has a very clear sense of what it wants, moves quickly to make the things it wants happen and has a small commissioning team who are empowered, supportive and accessible,” says one indie.

Others pick out Sky for the following reasons: “immediacy of response, strong sense of partnership”, “very communicative”, “fast decisions and reliable payments” and “quick, decisive, supportive”.” The downside of Sky, according to producers, is usually on the business side of things. “Dreadful terms of trade,” complains one indie. “They are very aggressive and leave very little margin for any profit,” says another.

ITV
ITV takes fourth place in the best broadcaster stakes. Indies like the fact that it is “open to different ideas and concepts” under director of television Peter Fincham. Others say it “has found some money.” Several indies say there are “faster decisions and better access to commissioning editors/controllers”.

The praise, however, is tempered with complaints about ITV’s business dealings with indies, in particular its attitude towards the terms of trade. Many indies report that ITV is “demanding deals outside the terms of trade” and is “rewriting the terms of trade for indies, wanting more and more for less and less.” “They want to own and make everything”, says another indie.

Five
In fifth place, appropriately, is Five. Now under new ownership, it’s regarded as “clear minded, straightforward with no bullshit at all levels of the organisation.” The commissioning team give “quick answers and firm decisions.”

Not all indies are so fulsome in their praise for Five, though. Five’s recent financial woes and protracted sale process has “demoralised commissioners” causing “no clear strategy.” There’s also complaints about “far too high an expectation for the funds available” with one indie calling Five “a total waste of time, with slow response and when they do respond they want either ad funding or a high price per hour.”

Digital broadcasters
A handful of digital broadcasters pick up votes in the best broadcaster category, notably Nat Geo, UKTV, Travel Channel and Living. The Travel Channel is rated because “as a small broadcaster they know their limitations on what they can achieve. They respect their suppliers hugely and give rapid replies on commissions.” Living is noted particularly for “quick replies”. Discovery is “setting out a much clearer ambition for what they want and are focusing on UK production.” Another indie says that Discovery “seems to be reaching out to the indie community again, and are interested in newly creative deals.”

Meanwhile, UKTV is reported to be “increasingly competitive on budget and innovative in rights position.” On the flip side, the US channels come in for plenty of negative comment. They have all, says one indie, “become more aggressive about retaining all rights to programmes they commission. It is therefore very hard to get deals that are profitable for indies.” Discovery, reports one indie, “has an inflexible rights position and highly proscribed procedures.” Nat Geo is simply “too bureaucratic”, while Disney’s “development process is a nightmare – they pay peanuts and screw you on the IP ownership.”

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