On Wednesday 4th July, a collection of controllers, producers, commissioning editors, and creatives will be debating ‘who needs a commissioning editor anyway?’ at BAFTA’s HQ on Piccadilly. As the producer of the debate, and as executive editor (entertainment commissioning) at the BBC – as well as a former creative who has pitched ideas – commissioning is a topic close to my heart and something that I’ve experienced from both sides of the fence.

It’s always good to review the commissioning system for television and think about the ways in which it could be improved, but it’s a particularly timely debate to have at the moment. The ongoing Delivering Quality First (DQF) consultation at the BBC includes a specific call to investigate commissioning with a view to making it more effective and creative.

As anyone in the industry will know, complaints about the current system include that it is slow, bogged down with paperwork and sometimes mysterious. While I can empathise with all of those points (and in some cases I’ve experienced them myself as a creative) I’d argue that most of the time, it’s about the individual commissioner, not the system. Of course there will be instances where a long and slow process ends without a commission, but in general I’d say the two-tick system is a sound one. The best work is done collaboratively, and the relationship between commissioner and controller is reciprocal.

One of the charges I expect to see levelled at the commissioners’ side of the table on Wednesday is that they have only the power to say ‘no’, and not to say ‘yes’. But in reality, that filter needs to be there and it helps the channel get the best work. If there was one person in charge of commissioning content, it wouldn’t make the viewing experience any better for the audience, and good work would inevitably slip through the net.
I don’t expect the DQF consultation to bring about a radical change in commissioning at the BBC, but the process does need to become more efficient, transparent and accessible. We need to remove any sense of mystery and work on how we brief and communicate strategy.

Outside the BBC, you can’t fail to notice that an increasing number of content creators are skipping out the commissioning process altogether. I find it likely that, with content increasingly being delivered straight to audiences online, the commissioning process of the future won’t be able to ignore this trend forever. It will be fascinating to discuss this with the audience on Wednesday and see what they think the future holds.

Karl Warner is executive editor (entertainment commissioning) at the BBC.

Tickets are still available for the BAFTA TV Debate: Who Needs a Commissioning Editor Anyway?  The event is taking place from 6.45pm on Wednesday 4th July at BAFTA, Piccadilly.

Staff Reporter

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