Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Here's an article in the Guardian which I hope is wrong.

It says the BBC is evaluating all production departments except news, but including current affairs, to see whether, under so-called "compete or compare", they could work more cheaply outside direct-licence fee funding, within a commercial subsidiary, working title NewCo.

I had naively thought the project was simply looking at teams working out of White City, where the BBC is desperate to empty buildings, to fill a looming funding gap which is opening up just as Auntie seeks Charter Renewal.

This systematic year-zero exercise could be seen as the logical conclusion of two drivers from the last century. First, Mrs Thatcher's 1990 Broadcasting Act, which compelled the BBC to take 25% independent productions. Second, John Birt's tenure as Director General. He saw no reason for the BBC to make programmes other than news; and envisioned a BBC solely composed of News and a group of huge-brained commissioners. Indeed, when Greg Dyke arrived at Broadcasting House in 2000, he found that many studios had been taken out and replaced with ritzy meeting rooms, in preparation for the next stage.

Now the Guardian reports that the project team doing the compete and compare work is travelling the country, to consider the future of production teams dispersed around the UK under Greg's strategy.

Is it wrong-headed ? Let's be clear that one proponent of the current plan, former tv production boss Pat Younge, saw the move as a way of paying talent (ideas teams, scriptwriters, directors, actors and presenters) more, not less, freed from the shackles of Auntie's pay and grading system, under the uncomfortable scrutiny of FoI, The Trust and Fleet Street. Let's hope that's in the comparison model.

Danny Cohen talks about long-term protection for shows like East Enders and Strictly within NewCo. But what happens when their course is run ? If there are no production guarantees outside News, the pointy-heads must be free to chose the next best idea, not wait for the East Enders team to dream up a replacement - or, I'm pretty certain, indies and competition lawyers will cry foul.

In terms of technology, training and other support, logic says most of that should follow production into Newco - it's presumably one area things might prove cheaper, adopting indie-standards on rates, contracts, employment protection etc, not Auntie's gold-plated offer, with its salary progressions, attachment and development opportunities. But of course, that's where the proposal depresses me - it's like turning the National Theatre into a commercial West End theatre.  The National, in the way it works, is the reason West End theatre is the envy of the world - nurturing a core of talent in all disciplines, which spreads out across the capital. The BBC, in the way it works/worked, nurtures a core of talent which makes most of British broadcasting outstanding.  Put that in the equation, pointy-heads, and let me see the value you put on it.
  • Depressed, pt 2. Emily Maitlis tweets "#DapperLaughs is dead. Dan O Reilly tells #newsnight exclusively why he's killed off his character."  I'd argue that ITV killed him off, and if that's an exclusive, you might as well put News in Newco.

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