BBC Films Strategy

November 30th 2010

This paper sets out the strategy for BBC Films, providing an overview of BBC Films, other key players in the UK, BBC Films’ main objectives and measures of success and its key priorities until the end of 2012/13.

1. An overview of BBC Films

BBC Films is a separate Business Unit within BBC Vision Commissioning and Services. From 2009/10 to the end of 2012/13, BBC Films has an average annual budget of £12m (an increase of £2m from 08/09) which covers film production and development along with the costs of the team running BBC Films and associated BBC overheads. BBC Films typically produces eight feature film projects per year. Recent films have included StreetDance, Made in Dagenham, Tamara Drewe, The Damned United, In the Loop, Fish Tank, An Education, Bright Star and Africa United.

This is a significant number of films compared with a typical independent producer who will see a film into production every two to three years. BBC Films works with producers, to develop, produce and bring projects to audiences. It provides both financing and production expertise to producers in this process. BBC Films works with a number of different organisations and individuals (including creative talent, theatre, book publishers, other BBC departments etc.) and at different stages of development. BBC Films will never commit production finance without editorial involvement in the film’s production.

Any return on investment of a BBC Films title is used to add to the production financing budget of BBC Films and the amount of return varies from year to year.

2. Other key players in the UK

Public funding for film in the UK comes from a number of UK national and regional government, public sector and European sources. There are three principal public sector bodies which support film – BBC Films, Film4 (part of Channel 4) and UK Film Council (UKFC). Each of these bodies has different tastes and different strategic priorities, and the BBC aims to play its own distinct role in this ecosystem. This set up has provided the British film industry with stability and plurality which has been very important in the development and sustainability of the industry over the last decade.

Film4, the filmmaking arm of Channel 4, has a budget of £10 million (set to rise to £15 million in 2011), which is used on development and co-financing of UK films. Film4 has one terrestrial channel to accept its offerings, Channel 4, and one digital channel dedicated to film, Film4. Film4 commission films in a similar way to BBC Films, ensuring that the majority of this investment was in films that Film4 developed or invested in early.

Since its formation in 2000, the UK Film Council has been the Government’s strategic agency for film in the UK, receiving around £27m from the National Lottery and £27m from the Government to support a wide range of activity around UK film making, e.g. script development, film production, short films, cinema etc. In July 2010 the Government announced that it would abolish the Film Council, and the Department for Culture Media and Sport has been consulting industry on how best to reallocate many of the Council’s functions (and in particular the distribution of National lottery funding) to other organisations. Going forwards, BBC Films will be keen to engage with the selected distributor of lottery funding to help support the development of a healthy UK film industry.

3. BBC Films objectives

BBC Films seeks to deliver on the BBC's public purpose of stimulating creativity and representing the cultural diversity of modern-day Britain. It supports the BBC's purpose of bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK, due in part to the particularly international nature of film.

BBC Films produces a broad range of distinctive, exciting feature films for cinema-goers and licence-fee payers. Working with and developing top talent, its expertise helps support a healthy and diverse UK film industry. In so doing, it complements BBC drama's activities and broadens the BBC brand. BBC Films therefore serves three main constituents – the audience, the film industry and the BBC.

3.1. To provide the licence fee payer with a broad range of feature films

A BBC Film should be defined by its quality, originality, freshness and innovation. It will not be a film that is solely driven by commercial imperatives, that is cynically formulaic or purely exploitative and derivative. BBC Films will aim to avoid ‘copycat’ commissioning – a broad slate of bold, original developments should form the basis for commercial and critical success.

Historically, the market has often shied away from the very films which have been most successful at the box office: those that are execution dependent, involve new talent, or are based on challenging subject matter. It is in this risky and resource intensive area that BBC Films is best able to leverage its development resources and brand value in order to drive films into production. Films with limited international sales potential are generally difficult to finance, yet are often the most critically and commercially successful, and additionally often deliver particular value to the BBC in terms of their UK specific cultural relevance, e.g. The Damned United, An Education.

Each film that is greenlit for production must demonstrate the potential to stand out in a crowded marketplace and its cost should be a function of its perceived commercial prospects. In achieving this, the script is the first consideration. Audiences are drawn to known brands, adaptations and strong, original material. BBC Films seeks a judicious combination of these elements which in turn attracts star cast and named writing and directing talent. In conjunction with BBC Films’ reputation, these are critical factors in securing third party finance. 

A unique resource available to BBC Films is the internal creative talent pool within the BBC. Writers and directors from Comedy and Drama, in particular, may get their feature film opportunities from BBC Films. This is a two way street, in that BBC Films seeks to capitalise on access to this talent pool while ensuring that the talent is retained by the BBC through the extension of opportunity. Equally, BBC formats and ideas can be creatively recycled through BBC Films (Doctor Who, Edge of Darkness). In the case of Armando Iannucci’s In The Loop, BBC Films was able to develop Iannucci to the next stage as a director, giving him his feature film debut, harnessing the improvisational skills he had developed on The Thick Of It whilst accessing fresh, original material.

In summary, BBC Films will ensure that films are configured as opportunistically as possible to maximise potential impact and success. BBC Films believes that it can satisfy this objective through making around eight films in a year, composed primarily of projects with mainstream appeal consistent with BBC values for example The Duchess, Tamara Drewe, Doctor Who, Brighton Rock. This includes literary adaptations, BBC titles and recognised brands with attractive cast and filmmaking talent attached. BBC Films will continue to invest in smaller scale innovative and cutting edge projects which represent opportunities for breakout hits and attracting new, in particular, younger audiences for example In The Loop, StreetDance (Britain’s first 3D dance movie), Nativity as well as authored work with arthouse appeal. Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank and Pawel Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love satisfying niche audiences, supporting pure cinema values and ensuring diversity for TV schedules.

Delivery of this objective is measured in terms of the variety of the slate, box office performance, critical and awards success, and audience reach[1] and share and appreciation[2]. Going forward, we intend to track the quality and originality of our films through the overall measurement of quality and originality when our films are broadcast on TV (in the same way as our TV programmes are).

3.2. To maximise the impact of films on television and online

A films performance on television is determined by a number of factors, including how commercially marketable they are (e.g. key actors or director, popular subject matter), how well they achieve in the cinema in terms of box office and how much of a cultural impact they make in terms of being talked and written about. Therefore, to achieve the very best television audience, BBC Films must first work closely with its distribution partners to ensure that the cinema release, publicity and marketing are sufficient to build value. BBC Films always negotiates for the 'free television' premiere as a minimum right. Where possible and where it does not negatively impact on the distribution of the film, BBC Films aims to acquire the UK television premiere in order to enhance early availability. The impact of films on television will be measured primarily through reach, share and AI performance.

Furthermore, in order to maximise the impact of films on television and online, BBC Films will:

  • Build a stronger ‘home’ on BBC Two to showcase their films, in turn improving licence fee payers’ awareness of the original British films brought to air by the BBC
  • Ensure earlier editorial discussions, alongside Drama commissioning, to give BBC Two and other channels a better idea of the potential performance and impact of titles, allowing for greater editorial emphasis in the way the BBC deploys and builds film moments
  • Find opportunities to exploit links between film and programme content including:
    • Film based Seasons, aiming to create regular multiplatform events out of film, whether new or using the back catalogue, similar to Christmas film scheduling, and grouping films together to increase impact. Christmas scheduling has led to a number of successful TV performances, for example Mrs Henderson Presents in 2006/07 reaching an audience of 7m with its share at 32% and The History Boys in 2007/08 reaching 2.6m with its share at 12%
    • Intelligent scheduling e.g. Grow Your Own (a film about a set of refugees who are given garden plots to aid in their healing) immediately after Gardeners’ World, gaining an audience of 2.2m and an appreciation score (AI) of 86
  • Maximise impact with significant marketing and promotion through, for example, fitting a showreel with short clips and branding into appropriate TV junctions
  • Ensure that, where possible, the appropriate rights are gained for films to be available on iPlayer for at least the 7 day catch up window
  • Take advantage of opportunities such as YouView (formerly Project Canvas) and the BBC’s Archive Project, subject to regulatory approval, rights issues and funding
  • Improve links with established online film websites such as FilmNetwork and explore more innovative distribution paths such as premiering a film online or showcasing clips

3.3. To support a healthy UK industry

BBC Films remains committed to partnering with the industry to invest in films, providing cornerstone financing and thereby making a significant contribution to the industry’s ability to mount independently financed films. Development finance is scarce, and BBC Films is one of the few key players within this area. Although BBC Films may create value through its activities, it is not set up to be a profit centre.

BBC Films is one of the very few volume dealers in film in the UK, and has a strong international profile. The resulting knowledge and expertise BBC Films has to offer British filmmakers travels right across the entire value chain – development, financing, production, launching to the marketplace and distribution.

BBC Films aims to share its strong relationships and make relevant introductions, particularly in financing and marketing, with the UK Film Industry. The deep level of production knowledge within BBC Films is also offered to the industry, particularly to emerging producers. There are often many parties involved in each film with different or conflicting needs and who are operating within long entrenched systems that don’t easily allow for a partnership approach. BBC Films has built up considerable partnership expertise from its experience of working in the position of a minority funder of films and finding the delicate balance between standard film industry practice (which has not been designed for broadcaster involvement) and the needs of the BBC especially in the area of editorial control, publicity and branding. 

This expertise, teamed with deeming a portion of BBC Films investment as equity, ensures that BBC Films is given a proper voice at the table even when partnering with organisations such as Miramax, Sony and Fox Searchlight who have huge financial and international distribution power.

BBC Films will continue to support relevant schemes and partnerships that improve the industry ecology such as Skillset, BFI, NFTS and other skills academies. BBC Films is committed to partnerships and would be interested to engage in discussions with relevant organisations on an ongoing basis. 

3.4. To develop UK creative talent 

BBC Films is firmly committed to the process of developing new talent, in so doing helping to ensure that the stock of talent available to the industry is continually refreshed at all levels, writer, director, producer and actor. The development of talent is inherently risky, and is an activity that the commercial sector often avoids. The proactive engagement of organisations such as the BBC and the UK Film Council have proven to be especially important in this area, especially in broadening the range and diversity of talent able to participate in feature film production. BBC Films is committed to diversity in its broadest sense, including the full range of experience (from first time to experienced talent) alongside considering gender and ethnicity mix. The recent film StreetDance is a good example, directed by two first time feature filmmakers (one female) and a cast that concentrated on new UK talent from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds.

Talent often originates outside the mainstream film sector - from television, other art forms, and also or from the UK nations and regions. BBC Films is in a strong position to leverage both its place within the wider BBC creative family and its relationship with the wider pan-UK film industry, in order to support this endeavour. In particular it regularly backs first time feature film directors crossing over from television. 

BBC Film also makes a limited, targeted investment in the production of short films for the purposes of talent development. This strategy is intended to function as an efficient means to test talent and nurture relationships, mitigating some of the risks of supporting new talent within feature films production.

3.5. To enhance the quality reputation of the BBC 

BBC Films has to build its reputation with two separate audiences: the UK film industry and licence fee payers. 

BBC Films has achieved a strong reputation within the UK and international film industry through the quality of the films it has produced, recognised through its nominations for numerous awards over the last few years. The most prestigious film festivals select BBC Films projects on a regular basis such as in 2009 An Education at Sundance and then Berlin, Bright Star and Fish Tank at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival has selected Creation as its opening night film and programmed six additional films in prime slots.

However, despite the high regard within the industry for BBC Films, research[3] has shown that even though audiences have an affinity for what they understand and appreciate as a British film, BBC Films as a brand and the BBC’s profile in film production was found to be almost non-existent amongst consumers. Film4, partly because it is a channel brand as well as a film co-production unit within Channel 4, has a very strong association with film amongst the public. The BBC is only weakly associated with British film though respondents unanimously agree that the BBC should spend the licence fee buying (and making) British films.

The BBC intends to maintain BBC Films’ positive industry profile and improve awareness of the benefits of the BBC’s contribution to the UK film industry to the licence fee payer by:

  • Providing a greater presence in both trade and consumer facing media
  • Finding opportunities across the trade and consumer press to share news or celebrate the success of award winning/critically acclaimed/high grossing titles, including a regular positive presence in the trade media across the year (particularly in the lead up to major film festivals e.g. Cannes) and regular BBC Films branded presence in consumer facing media such as news stories, premieres and previews/reviews
  • Working with Vision Multiplatform to improve the representation of BBC Films online, ensuring a comprehensive and quality offer is available to consumers and trade alike 

Finally, by ensuring that original BBC films have a stronger ‘home’ on BBC Two (as described in Section 3.2), BBC Films will be able to drive higher impact and consumer awareness of their films.

4. Conclusion

This paper should serve to reinforce the current strategy that BBC Films is following. BBC Films consistently develops and finances a wide range of high quality diverse films, in partnership with the commercial sector and working with a broad range of writers, directors, producers and actors to bring the best of British talent to our audiences. Over the next few years, our priorities for improvement will be to increase the box office numbers for our commissioned films and work closely with Channel Controllers and BBC Marketing Communications to improve the performance of these films on television.


[1] Reach is measured in terms of the absolute number of people watching the programme. Share is measured in terms of the proportion of the total television audience watching the programme.

[2] Appreciation is measured through the Appreciation Index (AI) which is a mark of ‘appreciation’ or ‘enjoyment’ out of 100.

[3] Marketing and Communication Study by Blinc, May 2008

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