BBC director-general proposes abandoning production quotas

BBC director-general Tony Hall (pictured) proposed plans to abolish production quotas and allow the Beeb's in-house producers to create programming for rival networks in the UK and abroad, in a speech at London's City University.
July 10, 2014

BBC director-general Tony Hall (pictured) has proposed plans to abolish production quotas and allow the UK broadcaster’s in-house producers to create programming for rival networks.

In a speech at London’s City University on Thursday (July 10), Hall said the British pubcaster will adopt a “compete or compare” policy and raised the possibility of major changes to BBC in-house production.

Explaining that he wants to level the playing field between BBC producers and independent producers, Hall proposed scrapping production quotas in favor of open competition.

Presently, 25% of the BBC’s TV production comes from independent producers; 50% is from in-house producers; and 25% is available to both, via what is known as the Window of Creative Competition (WoCC).

Although a process of ‘managed competition’ has allowed the UK’s independent production sector to thrive and exploit intellectual property through international distribution deals, Hall said “a competition revolution” is needed in response to recent consolidation in the global TV market, which has led to a handful of super-indies dominating the supply of programming to British networks.

“Under the current rules some big, global producers no longer count as fully independent so their shows can’t go in the 25% of BBC television airtime guaranteed to independent producers,” he explained. “So a big long-running independently-produced series like MasterChef has had to move into the 25% window of creative competition that’s open to everyone. That squeezes out creativity and innovation. Big returning strands – brilliant as they are – now take up space designed for new ideas.”

In order to retain talent BBC Productions is losing to competitors and expand the types of commercial deals it can make, Hall wants to allow the in-house arm to produce programming for other networks in the UK, such as Channel 4 and ITV, and globally.

“Managed competition has also helped us to keep costs down. We have been able to compare between independent producers and in-house production,” said Hall. “Free competition should intensify this. But it must be fair competition, too. We must make sure we don’t use the licence fee to compete unfairly or subsidize commercial activity.”

Hall said the proposals were “far from final” and once complete, he will send them to the BBC Trust as part of a supply chain review scheduled for the fall. A revised charter will be required for the changes to take effect.

In a statement, the UK’s Producers Alliance For Cinema and Television (PACT) called the proposed changes long overdue.

“PACT has been calling for the BBC to open up to more competition for over 20 years,” said PACT CEO John McVay. “Tony Hall’s commitment to liberalizing in-house production should be welcomed both inside the BBC and by its suppliers. We look forward to working with the BBC executive in the coming months to identify how this can be achieved in order to deliver the best value for money for licence fee payers.”

In recent months, 21st Century Fox and Apollo Global Management announced plans to merge super-indies Shine and Endemol; Discovery and Liberty Global bought producer All3Media; Warner rebranded indie acquisition Shed as Warner Brothers UK; and Viacom is acquiring British broadcaster Channel 5.

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