TV’s Big Questions: what direction should the BBC take?

YIR-grid-for-onlineThe BBC, perhaps the world’s most revered pubcaster, is under financial, political and cultural pressure to change how it operates. We asked senior executives what ‘Auntie’ should do next.

Roy-Ackerman---Headshot-(1)“Any TV executive who doesn’t care about the health of the BBC needs their head examined,” says Pulse Films unscripted boss Roy Ackerman. “What does it need to do? Spend as much of the licence fee on distinctive programmes as possible. This should include popular mainstream shows like Strictly Come Dancing, The Apprentice and The Great British Bake-Off. Contrary to some opinions, distinctive doesn’t mean only programmes that other networks wouldn’t do – which can land you with a track record of market failure. However, it does mean that the BBC’s channels can afford to take more risk.”

It is a tumultuous period for Auntie, as the BBC is affectionately known in the UK, with discussions ongoing about its new charter, how it is governed and its wider role in the TV world. The pubcaster, with Tony Hall at the helm, has come out fighting, and the debate is fierce.

Ian-Jones-240x160The Beeb now part-funds S4C, having taken over responsibility from the UK government in 2013. The Welsh broadcaster’s boss, Ian Jones (right), says the BBC is an “essential institution” and a “beacon of creativity worldwide”. “A strong and vibrant BBC is essential to the UK’s creative economy,” he adds.

Major developments in 2015 saw BBC Three scrapped as a linear TV brand – it shortly goes online only – and Danny Cohen announce in October he was exiting the corporation, leaving a director of television-shaped hole.

Andrew Cole BluginCohen is “a huge loss to the BBC”, says Komixx Entertainment’s Andrew Cole-Bulgin (left). “He was a massive creative talent, continually pushing boundaries and taking chances,” he adds. “His ability to disrupt thinking was a credit to the BBC and something that they must take on board with his replacement.”

“Personally I’d like to see the BBC be less apologetic and more dynamic especially when it comes to selling itself overseas,” Cole-Bulgin adds.

Similarly, John Willis from Wales-based production group Tinopolis says: “Danny is a big loss, but the BBC always bounces back. The big slug of money they are losing is more serious.”

Mark Linsey to filling the director of television position on an interim basis. This week he oversaw a restructuring of BBC channel managers, handing Charlotte Moore overall responsibility for the pubcaster’s network. As a result, the BBC One and BBC Two controller position have been discontinued after a half-century, and BBC Two boss Kim Shillinglaw is leaving.

7 Wonder CEO Liza Abbott (right), meanwhile, says the BBC “will survive Danny Cohen’s departure”, but is “less sure if it can survive John Whittingdale’s tenure”.

Liza AbbottWhittingdale is the Conservative government minister tasked with overseeing talks around charter renewal – the mechanism that decides the pubcaster’s funding levels. He is considered an historical critic of the BBC and faced fire from the industry throughout the year over his seeming desire to constrict the pubcaster’s remit going forwards.

Tinopolis creative chief Willis adds the most shocking development this year was Whittingdale ordering the BBC to pick up the tab for over-75s licence fees in the UK, something set to cost the pubcaster £750 million (US$1.1 billion). This was thought to have been part of shotgun, closed-door licence fee agreement, but Whittingdale has since said there is no final deal in place.

Meanwhile, money-making arm BBC Worldwide bought into indies last year, and plans to launch new production arm BBC Studios were revealed, ruffling the feathers of ITV, the indie sector and others in the process.

“I am sceptical about the idea of BBC Studios standing alone as a supplier to all broadcasters,” says All3Media’s Stephen Lambert (pictured below), echoing the thoughts of many in the production world. “The BBC should concentrate on commissioning the best ideas from the market and gradually wind down in-house production.”

stephen_lambert“There is concern in the independent sector surrounding BBC Studios and how such a substantial production unit can compete fairly in the industry without competitive advantage,” adds S4C’s Jones. “This needs to be closely considered to avoid destabilising the ecology of the important independent production sector.”

Lee Morris, managing director of Sid Gentle Films, is positive for the year ahead. “The BBC has some fantastic programmes coming up – including our own SS-GB– and I am sure will continue to commission incredible content and support independent producers in the UK,” he says.

From a digital perspective, Nick Walters of Hopster is a critical voice. “It would be really great to see the BBC being less aggressive on hoovering up across-the-board digital rights when they licence and commission content,” he says. “Their current stance isn’t great for the British creative industry.”

Giorgio Stock 3Pulse Films’ Ackerman, meanwhile, issues a rallying call. “Everyone in the creative community should support those who can help the BBC get BBC Studios right,” he says. “Good luck to Peter Salmon, a smart and thoughtful choice as director.”

Overall, for Turner Broadcasting System EMEA president Giorgio Stock, 2016 for the BBC is “not a question of bouncing back, but more about meeting the vast and complex challenges it faces in the context of charter renewal. Issues of funding, governance, commissioning, reputation, production and the move to nonlinear are hotly debated topics – and critical for the next phase of development in the UK media market”.


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