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Somethin' Else BBC White Paper

Will BBC Studios benefit the commercial sector more than the viewer after white-paper shake-up?

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By Jessica Goodfellow, Media Reporter

May 13, 2016 | 4 min read

The government wants the BBC to make its in-house TV and radio inventory available to outside producers but will more competition with agencies mean the production of good TV or merely popular TV?

BBC

For the first time, in-house BBC teams could be allowed to sell their ideas to commercial rivals should government proposals to its Charter come into effect.

Prior to the white paper on the Charter renewal being released earlier this week, it was debated by the government whether the corporation should be restricted on commissioning popular shows or acting as a competitor to commercial broadcasters. Some have argued that the BBC's content output is now virtually indistinguishable from the commercial sector and in turn is chasing ratings much to the detriment of smaller rivals.

Siobhan Kenny, chief executive of the Radiocentre, the trade body for commercial radio, argued the organisation had to “bear the financial burden” of the BBC taking the lion share of the TV and radio market during peak hours.

In response to this, the white paper has called for 100 per cent of BBC’s TV content to be opened up to competition between in-house and external production companies, with radio moving to 60 per cent (from a voluntary 20 per cent) and online to 100 per cent (from a voluntary 25 per cent).

While this works to benefit many companies in the creative industry which can bid for the BBC’s output, the concern is if the the broadcaster's content is sold to the highest bidder, whether this will result in the creation of good Reithian-style programming or churn out popular commercially-driven productions.

James Heath, BBC’s director of policy and charter, said it was wrong to have “the convenience of competitors” in mind when reviewing the design of the BBC, an institution where “creativity is the lifeblood”.

“The BBC is judged by its deeds, it’s judged by its creative output, on a day to day basis, by the public. If it loses its creativity, and its ability to do brilliant and beautiful things, then the case for the BBC will diminish” Heath said at Westminster Media Forum debating the future of the BBC earlier this year.

The BBC will have to ask itself whether it is opening itself up for money’s sake or whether it will stick to the Reithian principles outlined by the original Charter, which calls for all content to inform educate and entertain.

Steve Ackerman, managing director of Somethin’ Else, suggested limiting the BBC’s output of popular shows was “driven by an ideological obsession with the marketplace” from the government and would not be putting the audience first.

“It would actually be putting commercial operators first” Ackerman said, “The idea that the BBC shouldn’t create things that are popular is clearly just bonkers.”

Ackerman went on to suggest while there are obvious benefits to the creative industry in the BBC allowing production companies and content agencies to compete over its content, it is “even better news for the audience”. He suggested it will mean “the best ideas are bought by the BBC regardless of source”, and this will mean better value for the license fee payer.

Now that content can come from anywhere, this could work to reinvigorate an organisation that has traditionally relied on ageing formats.

On this, Mark Eaves, founding partner of Gravity Road, said: “From an indie producer perspective, it’s really welcome - let’s hope it encourages a new generation of punchy young companies to breathe some life into the sector, alongside opportunities for hybrids like ourselves to pursue pure-play entertainment ideas.”

The BBC's in-house production teams have been restructured into BBC Studios, which has abolished the traditional divisions between BBC television and radio, and is now responsible for its own budget and its own accountability.

It is not yet known how the BBC will prioritise the content it commissions. Whether this opening up will make the BBC more relevant than ever, or suppress the quality of programming, will wait to be seen.

Somethin' Else BBC White Paper

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