British indie TV producers say that the BBC should pull out of the market for new US television shows. Buying new US shows such as the first season of Heroes drives up prices, they say. Indie producers’ association Pact has criticised Auntie for outbidding Channel 4 for US series Harper’s Island. Airing seasons of Mad Men or The Wire after they’ve already finished in the States would be okay though.
The BBC is already planning to cut its £100 million ($144 million) imports budget by 20%. Pact says it must go further. And the producers’ association is listened to. It was only due to its lobbying that the government forced the BBC to let producers keep ancillary rights to programmes Auntie paid for. Pact paved the way for the late 90s boom in indie TV producers. Indies currently raise £190 million a year because of changes Pact argued for.
The producers’ association is responding to the Beeb’s own content review. The BBC says that from now on 90% of its income should be spent on content. Pact wants to see this widened to include all the money the BBC earns, especially from its commercial arm BBC Worldwide. The Beeb’s commercial arm earned record profits of £140 million this year.
BBC Films’ annual budget should be doubled to around £20 million, say producers. The broadcaster should also slash its exclusive 15-year licence to 5 years, with “use or lose” conditions, enabling producers to release films themselves if the BBC isn’t going to. And the producer’s share of BBC profits should increase and be ploughed back into his next project.
Indie producers are fighting hard for whatever they can get. According to consultancy Oliver & Ohlbaum, overall investment by the five main UK TV networks has declined by 16% between 2005 and 2009. There’s been £250 million less spent on original content each year over the past two years. And this investment decline is accelerating. Ofcom, the UK communications’ regulator, forecasts that the annual gap between what programmes cost to produce and what broadcasters pay could double to £500 million by 2020.
The BBC should be spending another £50 million a year on kids’ programmes, say indies. Auntie is the only broadcaster to spend money on the fickle older children’s TV market rather than the just-dump-them-in-front-of-the-telly toddler and pre-school demographic.
And Pact has called for the BBC to open up its online commissioning, so that indie producers have the chance to create up to 50% of the Beeb’s output.