The BBC’s in-house drama department is cutting 16% of its workforce. That’s 22 jobs out of the 140-strong BBC’s drama department. BBC in-house drama has already had its budget cut by 5% year on year. And the amount spent on TV drama will fall by 33 percent in 2010/11. The BBC’s £3.5 billion ($5.5 billion) licence fee has also been frozen this year and could be cut next year. Drama jobs are being cut across the board –- not just back-room staff but also script editors and producers as well. Jobs within series and serials are particularly affected. The BBC is now talking to staff about their taking voluntary packages. A decision about who is going will be made by early December.
But independent producers that I’ve spoken to have welcomed this cut. “They’ve been overstaffed for years and this has been a long time coming,” one told me. Most independent TV drama producers employ creative teams of just 3 or 4 people. By comparison, 80 out of the BBC’s in-house drama department’s 140 staff members are creatives. One independent producer said: “BBC in-house production needs a major overhaul and in my view a major scale-down. It’s a relic of a different era when the BBC and ITV were the only game in town.”
Of course there’s an element of. ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ The BBC operates a system whereby in-house producers are guaranteed 50% of BBC drama output. Independent producers outside of the BBC are guaranteed another 25%. Both sides fight over the remaining 25% — known as the Window of Creative Competition (WOCC). Anything that weakens the BBC is good news from the independent producers’ point of view. Nicolas Brown, BBC director of drama production, said in an email to staff that the redundancy announcement “is not about people not delivering”. Yet the BBC’s share of the WOCC halved last year. In-house only produced 21% of the WOCC compared with 41% in 2008. The independents increased their share to 79%.
One independent producer I spoke to questioned why the BBC protects half of its drama output at all? Shows made in-house include five-times-a-week soap opera EastEnders and detective show Luther, which has just been re-commissioned for a 2nd series. “Surely (BBC drama controller) Ben Stephenson should have his annual drama budget and spend it with the best projects and the best companies?” he told me. “Why should BBC in-house get a special deal? What is the purpose of in-house? Most BBC staff are overpaid idle ‘lifers who can’t face the outside world.”