Exclusive: BBC ‘bullying and immoral’ in iPlayer rights demands

The BBC has been employing “bullying and immoral” tactics against production companies as it looks to secure extended rights for its iPlayer service, according to the CEO of UK producer body Pact.

John McVay told TBI that Pact, which represents more than 550 production members in the UK, was “still in the trenches” with the BBC in negotiations for the extended window and warned that the proposals could particularly damage small and medium sized outfits.

“We get calls every day from small companies saying, ‘What shall we do, we’re scared we’ll lose the commission – should we give them the rights?’. And we say absolutely not, otherwise then they’ll come back to us and say everyone seems quite happy.

“It’s a tactic – it’s a bullying tactic and it’s immoral of the BBC when they’re seeking to negotiate. Ofcom granted them the right to ask [for rights], not to get [them].”

Yesterday Sara Geater, chief operating officer at All3Media and chair of Pact, told delegates here at the Edinburgh TV Festival that negotiations weren’t “going terribly well” and McVay urged the BBC to compromise.

Negotiations over the changes, which will see the BBC offering shows for 12 months rather than 30 days on the iPlayer, have now been ongoing for almost nine months but the Pact boss said the BBC was “sticking its fingers in it ears” in discussions.

We don’t have a problem with more use, we understand audiences and we want them. That’s all fine, but you have to pay for it

John McVay

Pact struck a terms of trade deal with Channel 4 last month that will see the broadcaster hand over global secondary rights revenue in return for multi-platform rights, but McVay said the BBC was only offering “a pittance” for the additional rights required.

“We have been negotiating with the BBC for nigh on nine months and we have a range of proposals: we’ve offered ways to do this for them that are not necessarily just paying more with hard cash. But all we get is the BBC sticking their fingers in their ears and saying, ‘it’s really good for audiences’.”

The Pact boss added that for smaller and medium-sized producers, pre-selling secondary rights was an integral way to finance their shows but said the current proposals would reduce the value of those rights.

“Audiences want great creativity and programmes, that’s what we make for them, but if you debilitate the independent sector you rob the audience. And if you damage the creative competition and programme supply, you damage it for the audience.”

The Pact boss dismissed suggestions, most recently made by BBC content chief Charlotte Moore earlier this week, that more promotion on iPlayer would result in a rise in rights values for producers down the line.

McVay admitted such a scenario could come to fruition for the very biggest shows – such as Idris Elba-starring Luther – but he added that the broadcaster was “cherry picking” with its examples. “It’s only true for some big shows where it can help you get recommissioned,” he added.

“We don’t have a problem with more use, we understand audiences and we want them. That’s all fine, but you have to pay for it, because it damages the market otherwise. The money has to come from somewhere.”

In response, the BBC said it believed the changes “will be to the benefit of programme makers and viewers alike.”

In a statement to TBI, the broadcaster added: “The BBC’s role is to help viewers to find programmes and programmes to find viewers and this is an entirely reasonable response agreed by Ofcom to the changes that we all know are happening to the way that people watch television.

“There is a clear correlation between success on the BBC and commercial success for indies. Our discussions with Pact and others in the industry continue and we hope to reach agreement soon.”

Tags: BBC, John McVay, Pact

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