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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Jana Bennett says "we will see more of the UK's nations and regions on the BBC"

Jana Bennett

Jana Bennett, Director of BBC Vision, today outlined plans to see more of the UK's communities, cultures, and landscapes on the BBC's network programmes.

In a speech, Putting Programmes On The Map, given in Cardiff this morning, Bennett said: "The message from the audience is clear: they love it when they see their communities and landscapes and hear their voices on our TV programmes.

"We can point to many, many positive examples of programmes which powerfully portray different parts of the UK. I believe there is more we can do to unlock the creative potential that exists across the UK and reflect its communities to our audiences.

"When people know a programme is made near where they live it can make them value them even greater, make the enjoyment even deeper. Setting programmes "somewhere2 rather than "nowhere" and giving a vivid sense of place enriches our content, and reflects the true character that exists in communities across the UK.

"We have already started moving production out across the UK, building real centres of excellence in the nations and English regions. That was a first step. The BBC will now sharpen its focus on ensuring its content reflects the nations and communities of the UK accurately and authentically.

"BBC network television programmes will reflect and celebrate life right across the UK in greater breadth and depth. Out output will offer a more authentic window on the communities, landscapes and cultures of the UK."

Bennett announced a plan to better reflect the cultural and regional diversity of the UK that will see the BBC:

  • increase the amount of network TV content which offers distinctive voices with an authentic sense of place
  • encourage Commissioners and Controllers to consider settings and location as part of their wider editorial strategy
  • raise local audience awareness of the programmes made in their areas, ensuring audiences see more clearly the BBC's footprint across the UK
  • regularly assess how the BBC network output reflects the UK's nations and regions
  • continue to assess the impact of how audiences respond to programmes in different ways across different parts of the UK.

Bennett emphasised that quality programming was at the heart of what the audience wanted, saying: "Gavin And Stacey wasn't commissioned because it delivered portrayal of Wales and Essex, but because it was full of great characters with universal appeal. Its impact came from its authenticity. Ruth Jones and James Corden were writing from real experience and an understanding of the two communities."

Announcing the commission of two new network programmes from Scotland, Bennett said: "Two fantastic new dramas have been commissioned to be made and set in Scotland. Case Histories, a new series for BBC one, is an adaptation of Kate Atkinson's compelling mysteries, set and filmed in modern Edinburgh. And Young James is inspired by the true story of how the world's most famous vet, James Herriot, came to learn his trade in Glasgow. We're also working with Ruth Jones on a new entertainment commission for BBC Two from Wales. Such productions are building on the success of what is already being filmed in the nations."

In October 2008, Bennett laid out BBC television plans to increase network production in the nations and English regions to meet a target for total network spend outside of London of 50 per cent, including a 17 per cent target for the nations, by 2016.

There has been a 50 per cent increase in the level of network production in the nations in the past twelve months, from 7.9 per cent of total network programme spend in 2008 to 11.7 per cent in 2009.

The Weakest Link, Tonight's The Night, Eggheads and The Review Show have moved to Scotland; See Hear recently moved to Birmingham; Casualty and Crimewatch will move to Wales over the next 18 months; and successful dramas such as Five Minutes Of Heaven and Occupation have been commissioned from Northern Ireland with the new Sunday Morning Live religion series currently broadcasting from BBC studios in Belfast.

"However, to build on this momentum, we must also gain a creative benefit in terms of the voices we hear, the stories we tell and the pictures we paint. We believe that growth in production around the UK will help us tap more deeply into the experiences of different communities across the UK, and bring our output even closer to the lives of our audiences," said Bennett.

New research commissioned by the BBC to look specifically at geographic portrayal shows that the further away audiences live from London, the harder broadcasters need to work to reflect their lives and their communities.

Audiences in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England place a relatively high value on seeing their lives and their stories shared with audiences in other parts of the UK. It is also very clear in the research that programmes that are clearly set in specific locations – and that perform well across the UK – perform even better in the localities that they're set.

For example, Trawlermen had 7 per cent more audience share in Scotland than the UK average. Gavin And Stacey had a 10 point lead in Wales, and Best: His Mother's Son (about George Best) had a massive 15 point lead in Northern Ireland.

The research commissioned by the BBC also provided some interesting insights into how audiences in different parts of the UK respond to the BBC's programmes.

The most important factor affecting the audience's appreciation of network programmes is quality. That was paramount in whatever part of the UK people were interviewed. The BBC's audiences also expect to see their lives and their stories being shared with audiences in other parts of the UK.

Although there are different ways in which this can be achieved, accent on its own does not make audiences feel as if they are being portrayed adequately. Locations and cultural references are far more important. This kind of portrayal can be delivered through existing strands – such as Antiques Roadshow, which travels the length and breadth of the UK – and through original new content including drama as well as factual, entertainment and comedy.

In Wales, due to the large number of network productions coming from the nation, expectations have been raised and there's pride and a sense of ownership over the network productions. Welsh audiences want content that reflects a contemporary Wales, the research found.

In Scotland, the research showed that there is an appetite for representation of a more contemporary representation of their lives.

In Northern Ireland, audiences also hope to see programmes which will go beyond reflecting the legacy of 30 years of sectarian violence, reflecting more broadly the cultural and social diversity of the nation. However, this doesn't preclude the idea of ever dealing with this difficult part of their history, so long as it is done with sensitivity and subtlety. as in Five Minutes Of Heaven, which gained strong and appreciative audiences in Northern Ireland.

In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland it was clear that the further away people were from the main urban centres, the more they felt strongly that they would like to see more portrayal of their communities on network TV – as Lambing Live recently demonstrated on BBC Two.

Figures also showed that developing new formats has delivered great dividends. For example, Live At The Apollo was a highly successful programme throughout the UK but Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow, which visited venues across the UK, performed even better in the nations and English regions.

Bennett also drew attention to pan-UK formats, such as Countryfile, Coast and the forthcoming Village SOS (from BBC Wales), that can deliver a richer portrayal of life beyond the major cities.

Notes to Editors

Jana Bennett was invited to speak at an event arranged by Cardiff & Co, a not-for-profit agency that was established to promote Cardiff to a national and international audience and is funded by Cardiff Council and other companies and organisations in the Cardiff area.

The BBC is currently building a new drama production centre in Cardiff to house Doctor Who, Casualty, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and Pobol y Cwm, the BBC's Welsh language soap. Filming will begin at the new studios in autumn 2011.

The BBC conducted a number of strands of research to understand how audiences in different areas of the UK rate the importance of portrayal in the context of overall programme appreciation and also how the BBC succeeds in portraying their area to themselves and to the rest of the UK. Optimisa Research, a Leeds-based market research agency, was commissioned to conduct extensive research among 30 audience groups across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England at the end of 2009. A number of questions on the BBC's regular audience survey were also asked, and BARB viewing figures across the UK were also looked at in detail.

Case Histories is a new six-part series made by Ruby Films for BBC One to be shown next year.

Young James is a three-part drama Made by KoCo for BBC One to be shown next year.


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