Submission to the House of Commons. Culture Media & Sport Select Committee. The Future of the BBC

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1 Submission to the House of Commons Culture Media & Sport Select Committee The Future of the BBC Summary The independent radio / audio production sector is a growing UK wide creative industry that makes content for the BBC and many commercial networks. It wins more than its fair share of critical acclaim for a diverse range of productions RIG believes the BBC s role continues to be important but that it needs to have a more flexible structure and rely less on large in house production departments The BBC Trust has stated that the BBC should be ensuring the best ideas are commissioned regardless of source. But indie production companies are only able to compete for less than a fifth of BBC Radio content, whereas indie TV producers are allowed to make nearly half the content shown on the BBC TV networks. This has led to a sense of there being a protectionism operating within the BBC which is harmful to the diversity of content the listener expects Legislative means have been used to grow the indie TV sector both in terms of mandatory production quotas and statutory protection of intellectual property rights. This has resulted in one of the UK s most successful growth industries Indie radio production companies are asking for similar measures to be used to provide a greater range of programmes to the Licence Fee Payer and to provide a boost to an important UK production sector Introduction 1. The Radio Independents Group (RIG) represents independent radio / audio production companies based all around the UK. These companies are diverse RIG members make radio for the BBC and commercial networks, plus other audio and multimedia content for broadcasters and corporate clients. RIG members account 1

2 for around 95% of industry turnover. Overall the sector is comprised of 100+ companies, over 1,000 skilled people and spread all around the UK. 2. RIG greatly welcomes the inquiry into the Future of the BBC, allowing as it does in depth discussion ahead of the next formal Charter Review process. We hope the following thoughts are useful and would greatly welcome an opportunity to appear before the Committee to discuss them further. Our submission will touch upon many of the themes contained within the Committee s inquiry, whilst centrally focusing on the Committee s question: What balance should be struck in what the BBC produces in house, commissions externally and leaves entirely to others to create? The Independent Radio / Audio Production Sector 3. Like other creative industries, indie radio production companies are set up by entrepreneurs who seek to make diverse innovative content which has creative, cultural and, where appropriate, commercial value. 4. The sector is in a position to take its place alongside the other creative industries in helping the UK economy to grow. Indie radio production companies already attract advertising and commercial sponsorship around programmes on commercial radio, thus providing a boost to commercial radio income overall. Examples of indie programmes for commercial radio are 2013 s Classic FM Christmas Day drama Bethlehem Tales, made by Unique (which also provides daily entertainment news on around 150 stations), and The Ronnie Wood Show, made by Somethin Else for Absolute Radio. 5. Overall the indie radio/audio sector is estimated to be worth 40m 50m per annum and growing. Programmes originally commissioned for radio networks are sold on via companies that sell downloads and online streaming, and to overseas broadcasters. Shows such as Folded Wing s Jamie Cullum Show, which is syndicated in France, Canada and SE Asia, are proving successful internationally. 6. Each year indie radio producers win around 30% of production related Sony Gold Awards (the industry s Oscars'), including for station branding and multiplatform content. And UK indie radio producers feature prominently at the International Radio Awards in New York this year UK indie TBI Media won the Production Company of the Year Award and overall UK companies won 25 awards Audio production skills are not just important to radio, but to many other creative media sectors, particularly in an industry where skills are increasingly used across different types of content (eg computer games production require many 1.Williams, Paul. UK radio indies shine at New York Awards. Music Week, 18 June

3 traditional media skills including broadcast quality sound production) and where content itself is increasingly multiplatform. The sector is investing in skills, and RIG was recently selected to take part in the UKCES Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot Scheme to develop skills, apprenticeships and training in the sector. Perspective on the BBC 8. The BBC remains an important public service broadcaster which provides many services which may well not be provided otherwise, either at all or to the breadth and depth of that which is currently on offer. The current state of commercial radio, heavily constrained by the need to grow and maintain advertising and sponsorship revenues, shows that it is difficult to produce certain types of content without public support and a dedicated public service remit. RIG therefore supports both the continuation of the BBC in radio and television, and the Licence Fee as a practical way of collecting the revenue, notwithstanding the need to tackle how to deal with the growing number of people accessing the BBC through other devices than the traditional radio or television set. 9. However there is a need for the Licence Fee Payer to benefit as much as possible from the available innovation and creative talent available and with over 80% of BBC Radio s content currently ring fenced for in house production, the situation is at present far from ideal. 10. The argument for more independent production gains additional weight in the light of the need for the BBC to be ever more efficient and show value for the Licence Fee, at a time when it represents a considerable outlay for British households. The BBC needs to be increasingly fleet of foot and flexible in the digital converged era. In this context large in house production centres are unwieldy and therefore contrary to this need. Current State of BBC Radio Commissioning 11. Progress towards establishing a more diverse range of programme makers in BBC radio has been slow. A voluntary 10% quota has been operating since Although indies had been successfully supplying programmes over and above that quota, there had been no further move towards allowing the sector to bid for more programmes. 12. In 2010 the BBC Trust reviewed the supply of content to BBC radio services. In its conclusions the BBC Trust required the BBC to demonstrate a clear focus on delivering high quality and distinctive programmes to licence fee payers, in particular through ensuring the best ideas are commissioned regardless of source 2. 2 Radio Independent Supply. BBC Trust Review. August 2010, p10 3

4 13. As a first step towards meeting this requirement, the BBC was instructed by the BBC Trust to introduce, in addition to the 10% quota, a further 10% Window of Creative Competition (or WoCC ). The intention of the WOCC is to allow indie production companies to compete with in house production teams to submit the best ideas for programmes across the BBC s radio schedules. 14. The BBC recently reported on the first year of the WoCC s operation and it showed that indies were successful in winning 80% of WoCC hours, against in house competition Where given the chance, indie radio producers have proven success at delivering many types of programming, including large scale live programmes. The Radio 2 Folk Awards at the Albert Hall (produced by Manchester indie Smooth Operations) will be broadcast in January 2014 and TBI Media s Dambusters Live was a significant success for BBC Radio 2 last May. Indie produced programmes slot neatly into the most vibrant of BBC radio schedules, for example Campbell Davidson s award winning 4 Danny Baker Show and World s End s Fighting Talk on a Saturday matchday morning on Radio 5Live. Shows such these and other examples such as The Reunion, made by Whistledown for BBC Radio 4, also demonstrate the compelling original formats created by indies companies. Using indies also allows different production teams to contribute to a strand, for example the ethical and religious discussion programme Something Understood, which is made variously by Unique Productions, Falling Tree Productions and Whistledown Productions for Radio However RIG has been monitoring the types of WoCC programmes awarded to indies and, rather than being a diverse set of programmes from across the schedule, it has been found that WoCC commissions, especially on Radio 2 and Radio 1 / 1xtra, have been low cost strands 5 out of peak listening hours. The simple fact is that there are no independent productions on Radio 2 in daytime during the week. This leads to a feeling on the part of our members that there is a form of protectionism being practised in BBC Radio, contrary to the Trust s requirement to allow Licence Fee Payers access to the best ideas regardless of source. 17. Indie producers are confident that their productions are not obtained at any greater cost than a BBC in house production. However to this date a direct comparison of the cost of an in house production and indie production has not been possible, due to the fact that the BBC s accounting is less than transparent BBC Statement on Performance on Public Commitments July 2013, p9 Including a Gold Sony Award in 2013 for Best Entertainment Programme: oup_id=1&winners_award_category_id=17 strand meaning a series of programmes on a particular theme or linked subject 4

5 when it comes to the overall cost of an in house production. RIG has had conversations with the BBC on this issue on many occasions but the information has yet to be made available. Eligible Hours 18. It should be noted that all the hours made available to TV and radio indies either through the quota or the WoCC are expressed as a proportion of those deemed eligible. These eligible hours exclude news, current affairs, repeats and continuity broadcasts. Bearing in mind the amount of news on BBC networks, the amount of hours open to indie radio companies is therefore significantly less than 20%. All percentages cited should be viewed in the knowledge that they represent less of a proportion of BBC programmes than it might appear. The Lessons from BBC TV Commissioning 19. It is important to consider what has happened in BBC television commissioning. As far back as the 1980s the Government realised it was important to develop an independent TV production sector, to allow more creativity and innovation to take place and supply the PSB networks with a broader range of talent, voices and ideas. Hence the introduction of a 25% TV indie production quota in the 1990 Broadcasting Act, and also the creation in 1982 of Channel 4 and S4C, whose publisher broadcaster model means they commissions all of their content from indies. 20. Subsequently the Government enshrined indie TV producers intellectual property rights in the 2003 Communications Act, which has made sure that terms of trade between those producers and PSB broadcasters are overseen by Ofcom. 21. All of this has resulted in one of the most successful TV production sectors in the world, responsible for ever growing exports of programmes and formats and a burgeoning sector which remains a success story even in times of economic difficulty. 22. The next step for TV will be to move further towards competition for commissioning over and above the 50% currently available ie the removal of the current 50% in house guarantee. The BBC s Creative Director, Alan Yentob, told the 2013 Edinburgh TV Festival that he predicted that the in house guarantee in TV might be removed within five years Whilst radio / audio would never be on the same scale in terms of sheer amounts of money involved, it nevertheless has the capacity and ability to grow much larger, both in the UK and internationally. In the case of the latter, formats, skills 6 Kanter, Jake. Yentob predicts end of in house quotas. Broadcast, 24 August

6 and expertise can be exported to countries with existing or developing radio services, such as India or China, whose growing middle classes are fuelling a demand for English language programmes. 24. It is important to make clear that the indie radio sector is not simply looking at TV and saying me too it is more to make the case that there are more similarities than differences with TV, and the same interventions could be very effective in growing the UK s indie radio production sector. The BBC has sought to argue, including to members of the Select Committee during its inquiry into Supporting the Creative Economy, that radio is a different market and cannot be treated in same way 7. However the fact that there are no other real sources for PSB radio than the BBC surely means the Corporation has an even greater responsibility to make use of the benefits which working with indie radio companies can bring to the listener. 25. There is no reason why indie productions could not contribute to any part of the BBC s schedule. In fact this is more the case with the BBC than commercial radio, the latter having some programming which is based around straightforward music play and advertising and sponsorship. But even BBC music shows are individual programmes, with a dedicated production team and unique built in features. And such shows are already made, but only in a minority of cases, by indies, for example Smooth Operations Radcliffe and Maconie programme on BBC 6Music. Voices From Across the UK 26. During its evidence session on the BBC Annual Report in November 2013, the committee raised issues of making sure voices, stories and perspectives from across the UK are fully represented on the BBC. Clearly one way of making this happen is to have the content on the BBC s services, including radio, commissioned from a wide range of production companies all around Britain. The map supplied in Appendix 1 shows how the BBC has a few large production centres, but that there is a much more extensive network of indie radio /audio production companies. 27. RIG members have welcomed out of London initiatives such as the Salford Media City, whilst recognising that it does not address the issue of how the BBC engages more with the creative sector across all UK, not just where it has regional centres of production. BBC Trust 28. RIG has had regular dialogue with the BBC Trust since 2010, when it engaged with the Trust on its Radio Network Supply Review. House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media & Sport. Supporting the Creative Economy. Report, Vol 1. September 2013, ppev 145 6

7 29. Whilst the sector did gain from the 2010 review, the experience nevertheless indicated that the lines between the BBC Executive and Trust appeared to be insufficiently drawn, with the Trust reluctant to go as far as many had expected and also holding back from arguing for a quota by value, despite the wording of the BBC Agreement which mentions the value of commissions as an indicator of whether or not a true diversity of content is being commissioned from the indie sector. 30. Overall, from dealing with the Trust, RIG has the perception that members of the BBC Executive are well qualified and appear to be diligent in their roles. Institutionally, however, it is still questionable whether the Trust can really be even handed with external and internal stakeholders when one considers its dual regulatory / cheerleader role which still exists. Seemingly small details such as the Trust sharing the same e mail system as the BBC Executive point to a possibly greater problem of the Trust remaining too close to the organisation it is supposed to regulate. Looking to the Future 31. In looking forward to the next Charter it is important to take stock of the broadcasting world and what kind of PSB broadcasters we need, specifically what the BBC s role should be. 32. Whilst TV channels have proliferated, RIG is nevertheless of the opinion that a large scale service which is not dependent on advertising remains important. Having the distinct licence fee model ensures that whatever happens elsewhere in the sector UK audiences and citizens have an independent, objective and comprehensive news service, along with a wide range of other services. 33. However what has changed is improved technology, introducing the ability for content to be made far more easily and in many more locations than was the case when the BBC was first set up. There is no reason why in this day and age the vast majority of the BBC s content cannot be made all around the country and, whilst it is impractical for the BBC to have its own centres of production in many locations, it is not so difficult for an independent production company to set up more or less where it wishes. This is the case even more with audio than it is with other forms of production. 34. It could be argued that many of the serious problems the BBC has faced in recent years have been, in one way or another, the result of its being such a large institution. The solution is a firm new direction for the BBC, via the Charter, to make itself more fleet of foot, more flexible and more able to adapt to the challenges that will continue and develop over the period of the next Charter. 7

8 35. Whilst the BBC Trust s conclusions in its 2010 radio supply review were welcome, it failed to establish a clear timetable for achieving its objective of the best ideas regardless of source. This means that listeners are being deprived of the benefits of competition for the best programme ideas. It also makes it difficult for most indies to invest in their companies on anything but a short term basis 36. Whilst RIG was recently able to agree terms of trade which will mean more BBCcommissioned indie content is available online, with a fair return to indie producers, this is of limited value to both the audience and the industry if the latter is not given more access to BBC programmes. 37. In his keynote speech in October 2013, BBC Director General Tony Hall stated that the BBC must be the risk capital for the UK s creative industries 8 and RIG has welcomed this. Ultimately we would like to see a position where most if not all non news BBC Radio content was open to competition for ideas from indie production companies. The TV example demonstrates the type of steps that can be taken to move towards such an aim. 38. The success of the TV model has shown a clear path and RIG has been asking for parity namely a 25% quota and 25% WoCC for BBC Radio commissioning. Opening up the BBC s commissioning on such a scale would allow existing companies to grow and new entrants to market but always on the basis that they could come up with innovation ideas, exciting talent and fresh stories to tell. 39. We would of course recommend that such a model was phased in within a short number of years, rather than implemented in one go, to prevent unnecessary cost and upheaval for the BBC in terms of re organising its in house operation to allow for a lower future output. All the evidence from TV suggests that once this change has been achieved, the Licence Fee Payer can be more certain of being given content which had been through a competitive process to determine that it was among the best available. 8 Lord (Tony) Hall. Speech given at the BBC Radio Theatre in London, Tuesday 8 October

9 Appendix Radio Production Centres Across the UK 9

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