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24 September 2014
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Jana Bennett

Speeches

Jana Bennett OBE

Director, BBC Vision


Beyond the M25: A BBC for all of the UK

 

Wednesday 15 October 2008
Printable version

Speech to the Royal Television Society at The Commonwealth Club, London

 

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Thank you so much for coming along this evening to hear about our plans for the BBC outside of London.

 

I am not the only American to recognise what is so precious about every part of this country. It was Bill Bryson in Notes From A Small Island who observed: "Can there anywhere on earth be, in such a modest span, a landscape more packed with centuries of busy, productive attainment?"

 

This American would like to see more attainment from every part of the UK reflected in network television production. And I am delighted to say that is exactly what the BBC is going to do.

 

Our intention is nothing less than changing the very DNA of the BBC to bring the production of programmes closer to the audiences we serve. That means permanently increasing the production and commissioning of programmes in other parts of the country.

 

More than ever before, it will be a BBC for all of the UK.

 

The extensive programme that we are embarking on will boost jobs and the creative industries across the UK for both in-house and independents.

 

There are those who doubt that moving resources on a serious scale can be achieved without jeopardising creative quality. Those who think that regional and national centres of excellence cannot possibly be sustainable.

 

They are right to appreciate the scale of the challenge but wrong in their conclusions.

 

The plans are ambitious, certainly. But creative quality and sustainability are precisely what the strategy is designed to achieve.

 

Background to Out Of London

 

Let me start by explaining why we are embarking on such a far reaching undertaking.

 

If you think making more programmes out of London is something the BBC has been talking about for quite a while, you are of course right.

 

The fundamental issue is how to achieve one of the BBC's key public purposes, namely to represent the UK to itself.

 

We are determined to ensure that people in every part of the country have a sense of themselves on screen. And, in the process, to spread the Licence Fee more equitably.

 

Of course the Nations and Regions have always been a fundamental part of the BBC. We have always had real strength in depth in terms of radio, television and in more recent times the web in the Nations and Regions. And the Nations and Regions have always made many great Network shows.

 

But there is much more to it than that. The transformation that we are about to undertake will refresh the way network programmes are commissioned and produced, the voices we hear, the local faces and lives we see reflected on our screens.

 

The case for action by the BBC is stronger than ever because of the chill winds blowing through the UK broadcasting industry right now. In the last few weeks we have seen how ITV has retreated further from its traditional role as a regionally networked broadcaster. We would nevertheless welcome partnerships with ITV and Channel 4 to join us in developing the creative clusters that are at the heart of our strategy.

 

I'd like to add my own commitment to production across the UK. I may live in the South East but I do not regard myself as a southerner, a Metropolitan type or even the woman from the south coast where I partly grew up. I don't stand for a BBC of either the South or the North. I embrace diversity. I recognise its value.

 

My own history with the BBC was forged by my early regional experience as a news trainee with Look North and Radio Sheffield. It taught me there is no substitute for being there. That is another reason why I have a real commitment to taking the BBC to the nations and regions of the UK. Not just news but across the whole spectrum of programmes. To seizing the opportunities of having different creative voices on our airwaves – both in terms of ethnicity and regional voices.

 

Since we set out the case for renewal of the BBC Charter we carried out a full scale review of the supply of network television programming. We are now implementing its recommendations, which have been approved by the BBC Trust.

 

The Trust challenged us to be ambitious and last November the Chairman unveiled the stark contrast in approval around the UK.

 

It approved the Executive's recommendation for a new target for Out of London of 50% by 2016. We pledged to achieve growth in the Nations from the 2007 figure of 6% of network spend to 17% by 2016, with an interim target of 12% by 2012, and in English Regions the growth will be from 26% now to 33% in 2016. We have made it clear that the 17% target for the Nations is a floor not a ceiling.

 

The latest step will add up to nothing less than a radical shift in the whole set-up of broadcasting. To achieve it our strategy is to develop "creative clusters", built around a more sustainable set of production centres across the UK. Each of the centres is a hub stimulating the creative economy across a wide region.

 

We recognised that our historic definitions of network production out of London were too broad to underpin sustainable production. Instead we have opted for the Ofcom definition for Nations production, which provides a straightforward measure of production spend and where creative teams work.

 

Moving to the Ofcom definition means that more hours "count" in the Nations economy. For example it adds in around 1,500 hours of daytime programming each year. The definition now includes all the hours across our schedules with the exception of News which effectively means we will put even more production hours outside London.

 

Daytime is a fantastic place for developing talent and formats, and of course for healthy audiences. Much of BBC Birmingham and Endemol's business was founded on it, for instance. And Daytime is important for sustainability, providing returning volume and an environment where both formats and talent can come to the fore.

 

Opening up creative opportunities

 

All this adds up to a massive entry of new hours into the creative economy for Nations to compete for.

 

This new policy will ramp up our spend right across this Charter period until 2016. And we have voluntarily shifted to a measure with much greater depth.

 

It is important to understand that we are not starting out from Year Zero, however. We have been on this road for a while.

 

The commitment is there in steel, glass and concrete in the shape of BBC Scotland's fantastic new digital broadcast centre at Pacific Quay in Glasgow and the major new centre under construction at MediaCityUK in Salford. Both new centres are models for the kind of outward-looking, partnering BBC that makes a virtue of its roots and connections across the UK.

 

Based on the Ofcom definitions, the proportion of spend outside London has increased by 4.5 percentage points over the two years to 2007, which equates to a 15% growth in spend. Last year we spent £300m outside London.

 

Growth will take place in both the Nations and English Regions. Both independent and in-house sectors will benefit. In order to deliver these commitments 50% of the WOCC (Window of Creative Competition) will have to come from outside of London.

 

We have set out guideline percentages for the proportion of network spending in each of the Nations by 2016. Although these are not formal commitments, and may vary year on year, they are indicators that the BBC Executive and BBC Trust will monitor closely. We've planned on the assumption that the current licence fee settlement continues. All this is only possible because we have the ability to plan for the long term – one of the most important benefits of the Licence Fee.

 

In Scotland, Network spend is planned to at least meet the population level by 2016, increasing from 3.3% currently to around 9%. The same thing will happen in Wales, where spend will increase from 2.6% to around 5%. And also in Northern Ireland, where it will go up from 0.4% to around 3%.

 

Growth in the Nations will not come at the expense of the English regions, which we expect to account for one third of Network production by 2016. And London will still account for just under 50% of Network production.

 

Creative sustainability and how to achieve it

 

With finite resources, the crucial issue is how to achieve creative sustainability. If you want to source network television from across the UK you need to establish sustainable creative centres, each capable of developing and delivering a flow of network-quality ideas over the long term.

 

We know that a scatter gun approach is not the answer. You can't just share out all the money. Giving each centre a major entertainment series to make won't turn them into sustainable centres of entertainment production. The money would be spread too thinly to have any sustainable impact.

 

Instead we are building strategic centres of expertise, location by location, focusing on hiring the right talent in each centre, developing the talent that already exists and getting the development process right, with appropriate levels of funding made available to our commissioning teams there.

 

We want to help break the cycle of stop-start development and production.

 

The BBC sees strong partnerships with screen and development agencies as vital to the growth of local industries and will now be working more closely with those agencies.

 

Talent clusters will be supported and reinforced by moving a number of programme strands from their current locations to the Nations and Regions by 2012, subject to funding being approved. This is a key way to provide a good foundation for delivering year on year and retaining talent.

 

In doing so we shall be addressing another persistent imbalance between London and the rest of the UK. Real sustainability needs some returning business.

 

Each area will build on its own track record of success. Indeed it is the current success of developing existing creative clusters that gives us such confidence in the future.

 

Wales, for example, has blazed a trail through its development as an outstanding centre for drama in the space of just five years.

 

Before BBC Wales hired Julie Gardner as head of drama in 2003, drama was not the first thing that came to mind when you mentioned network television from Wales. But take two great minds in Julie Gardner and Russell T Davies, mix in the leadership of BBC Wales and the rest is history.

 

First came the network commission for the return of Doctor Who. Out of the success of Doctor Who we launched Torchwood, the award winning drama set in Cardiff. And The Sarah Jane Adventures for CBBC and BBC One.

 

We want more success stories like that in the nations and regions of the UK. There will be growing opportunities in every genre. For instance, in Drama we expect to see a significant increase in the amount made in the Nations by 2012. By 2016 we anticipate that they will supply around 20% of the Drama schedule.

 

We will double the amount of Comedy from the Nations by 2012.

 

In Factual we plan significant growth in all three Nations, both returning and opportunities for new commissions.

 

We anticipate that some independent Sports programming will move at some point in the future.

 

Inserts to the One Show are already providing a great way to develop the talent base in the nations. All three Nations will have in-house teams providing films for the daily, flagship strand at the heart of BBC One adding to Current Affairs for Manchester and key independent suppliers. Successful pilots can also form the basis of returning series like Street Doctor. So there will be more of these films from every centre.

 

This will underpin training and talent development in the Nation's Factual bases.

 

A journey through the nations and regions

 

Let me take you on a journey through all the nations and regions to see where we aim to be by 2016. On the in-house side we can achieve critical mass by drawing together enough people to generate creative ideas. And I will go on to talk later about some specific plans for the independent sector.

 

Scotland will focus on five genres, in all of which it already has great strengths – and those are Children's, Comedy, Entertainment, Drama and Factual.

 

Scotland's in-house Entertainment business will be reinforced by the move of key returning strands. We will be making at least one Saturday night Lottery show in Pacific Quay as well as one from the independent sector. To bolster the in-house entertainment department we are planning to move Weakest Link to Scotland.

 

BBC Scotland is already a strong centre for the Arts, with Edinburgh Festival output and programmes with people like Jonathan Meades and Russell Brand. We shall be reinforcing that capacity with more returning strands.

 

The Culture Show is successfully split between London and Glasgow, providing great opportunities to train up new arts directors. In future Imagine will build up a substantial production base in Scotland in addition to London and will be executive produced from Glasgow. Alan Yentob will continue as presenter and in his current executive role. The series will continue to use film makers from across the UK but now with a substantial base in Glasgow.

 

Newsnight Review will move to Glasgow in 2010 and over the next year its precise nature and form will be reviewed. We're confident that these measures will result in strong and thriving arts departments in both Glasgow and London.

 

Question Time, one of the BBC's leading political programmes, will be based in Scotland from 2010. We are planning to commission a National Lottery show from an independent in Scotland in addition to one made in-house.

 

Over in Northern Ireland there's a strong tradition of drama and current affairs programming. As well as those genres Belfast will focus on new opportunities in Factual, Daytime, Comedy and Entertainment.

 

We shall be scaling up existing in-house expertise for delivering additional episodes of Panorama.

 

More drama has been based in Northern Ireland recently. We want to keep this up, creating more sustainability and value for the drama sector.

 

In Factual, as well as films for the One Show we want to see Belfast making more landmark factual drama projects such as Atlantis – The Last Days which is currently in production. Northern Ireland will also make programmes for the Sunday morning religion slot.

 

In addition to Drama, Wales will focus on Documentaries, Factual Formats and Music. Moving production of Crimewatch to Wales will provide a new outlet for the trained talent base of popular journalists and feature makers, and provide a training ground for young directors.

 

In Factual programmes, Wales will maintain the momentum it has built up with series such as the award-winning Tribe with Bruce Parry, currently making his way up the Amazon, produced by the Welsh independent, Indus Films. New in-house Factual shows are coming up.

 

Some great talent has joined the Factual department – people like Ludo Graham who made The Choir and Meredith Chambers who has just joined from Channel 4 to become executive editor for Factual and Music.

 

A short hop across the Severn Bridge from Cardiff to Bristol, we are already making our first major in-house co-production between the two centres – the landmark documentary series Human Planet. In the key area of Drama Series, closer ties between Cardiff and Bristol will really help too.

 

Casualty is a key part of our thinking. This series is currently produced in Bristol but will require new accommodation in the near future and is likely to move. Strategically, we believe that moving Casualty will play a significant part in fulfilling our commitment to building a creatively and economically sustainable centre of excellence for drama in Wales.

 

However, a final decision will not be taken until we have completed our evaluation of all proposals which will include having to demonstrate great value for money for the licence fee payer. Given financial approval, we expect to confirm plans early next year.

 

In the event that Casualty does move to Wales, the South West will not lose out on quality location-based drama in the future. The West Country offers a unique setting for location filming – in the last year, Casualty apart, five major drama series have been filmed there.

 

Recent hits such as Lark Rise To Candleford and Mistresses have been commissioned for new series and I have no doubt there will be plenty of demand going forward to support craft skills for editors and local talent.

 

But of course Bristol is synonymous with Factual. It really makes sense for Bristol to build on its outstanding track record as a factual and natural history hub with shows like Planet Earth and Natural World and BBC One favourites like Antiques Roadshow. The new head of Factual Production, Tom Archer, is based in Bristol. So is Nick Shearman, who's the Commissioning executive for Factual. They will ensure Bristol's factual base continues to thrive.

 

Altogether BBC Bristol Factual has 32 separate productions and commissions this year, with a further 17 already in the pipeline for 2009.

 

Next year viewers can look forward to seeing three landmark series from Bristol – Nature's Great Events, South Pacific and Life. Frozen Planet is also in production.

 

Elsewhere in the English regions, Birmingham will also focus on Factual, and I can confirm that they will continue to make the long running daytime drama Doctors, which has been re-commissioned for a further three years.

 

Birmingham is buoyant and its Factual output is particularly strong. We are going to be consolidating its role as the UK centre of horticultural expertise. Birmingham will take over responsibility for both the Hampton Court and Chelsea Flower shows in addition to its existing portfolio led by Gardeners' World.

 

Salford is of course the major new BBC centre for the whole of the North of England. As a centre of excellence it will span Factual, Entertainment and Comedy, Sport, Children's and Drama.

 

The new building now taking shape at Salford Quays demonstrates the scale with which we are moving resources and production capacity to the English regions as well as the Nations. In total (and this includes radio and other staff as well as television) we are moving more than 1,600 posts from London in addition to 800 from the existing BBC centre in Manchester.

 

Both children's national TV channels (CBBC and CBeebies) will be heading North. So will BBC Sport and a major part of Future Media and Technology. On top of that, commissioning power will move with the whole of our BBC Learning offer – formal and informal. And a third network – Five Live will also be broadcast from Salford. That is a lot of controller power in the North.

 

Together with Bristol and Birmingham, what is happening in Salford will reinvent the English regions as a centre of network television production excellence.

 

And of course London will remain a powerhouse of creative ideas, focusing on Entertainment, Drama, Comedy and Factual, and in particular the specialisms like Science and Arts. As such, London's future is secure.

 

We know that pulling all the in-house effort at the different centres together will be increasingly important. We shall use the strength of one base to support another, taking a pan-UK view of talent both on- and off-screen. To do this we are setting up genre boards for each production area.

 

Whenever a programme is enhanced with a multiplatform service, the aim is for production to take place in the same national or regional centre. In addition we'll be looking to develop products – or multiplatform content not directly related to programme output – right across the UK.

 

Partnership with independent producers

 

I'd like to add a bit more about independent producers at this stage. As I said a moment ago, we are opening up the supply market for everyone, not just strengthening in-house production around the UK. Independents are crucial.

 

We would like the genre focus to complement and support in-house centres of excellence, supporting talent clusters while allowing talent to flow more easily between the independent and in-house sectors. As we invest in the independent sector, we also recognise and value the important role played by Channel 4.

 

Every year people in the production business tell me that starting from scratch is a very painful thing to do. Every year they have to start with a blank sheet of paper. That's why we are moving some independent strands to give a stable centre for future development of their production companies and the people who work for them.

 

But there's much more to all this than independent producers making existing programmes. We are looking for fresh ideas, different perspectives, different faces. Independents can help us to give a voice to every part of the community.

 

Reflecting diversity doesn't just mean more regional voices. It embraces the rich variety and diversity of the world around us. Everyone should feel their community or background has a place in the BBC's output. And the mainstream audience should have a chance to hear all those different voices too.

 

Our partnerships with the independent sector are paramount if we are going to make this work. We very much have in mind "indigenous" independents as well as the established national ones.

 

We know the talent is out there. We say to producers – we are prepared to take risks and trust you to deliver. We want to give you the support to develop great ideas.

 

The opportunities we're creating mean that companies with ambitions to grow beyond their region, and become network and international players, can do so. The WOCC means that business is there through competition. Some key companies in the English regions have already established strong diversified businesses and we want that to continue and spread to sustain these centres of excellence.

 

We've been consulting with Pact along with all of our supply bases since the beginning of this review. The changes we're making will have a lasting effect if producers come with us – their investment and commitment to out of London production will go hand in hand with our own. Pact have also been developing a pan-industry support initiative with us.

 

Initiatives specifically aimed at independents include the XM25 networking scheme – we've just chosen the first intake of 15 producers. And we will continue the access and briefing for companies through our commissioning open days, and support for initiatives from other agencies such as the Talent Attraction Scheme in Wales and the valuable work done by TRC in Scotland.

 

And we will be supporting independent producers with the Regional Independents Development Fund as well as providing commissions briefing, training and open days.

 

These initiatives will roll out in due course with much more detail to be shared.

 

Closer to commissioning

 

Turning to the role of commissioning, we are determined to reflect a more "networked" BBC in the shape of commissioning – without losing a strategic frame.

 

We know how hard it can be to sell new ideas to commissioners if you are not physically here, especially for independent producers. We are committed to ensuring better access.

 

Production people in the Nations also tell me that trekking down to London on planes and trains is not a great way to spend their time. We want commissioning execs to be there for the production community instead of the production community being there for the commissioners.

 

We are going to do this by developing genre commissioning, which has proved so effective in fostering creative ideas since it was first introduced at the BBC eight years ago.

 

So for each genre we are building up commissioning teams who will know the talent and seize on the talent in their area. I would sum it up as a commitment to being front of mind and close to home.

 

Commissioning execs will come to the talent – the talent won't always have to come to them. Their success will be dependent on commissions happening, on their effectiveness in fostering new talent and investing in talent. They will increase access to the commissioning system in a meaningful way for both in-house and independent producers outside London.

 

This is how the new commissioning structure will look.

 

For independent Factual commissioning there will be three new commissioning executives, one based in each Nation.

 

For Entertainment commissioning there will be a new commissioning executive for independent producers outside London, who will be based in Scotland.

 

For Daytime we will have a new commissioning executive who will be based in Scotland.

 

The new commissioning execs based in the Nations will report jointly to the commissioner in their genre and the head of programmes in the respective nation. That's important to ensure commissions are part of a pan-UK genre strategy as well as fitting with the Nations overview in terms of cultural representation.

 

Commissioning execs for Comedy and Daytime are already based in Manchester, and with the move to Salford they will be joined by commissioning for CBBC, CBeebies, Sport and Learning and of course Five Live.

 

For an idea of the contribution these commissioning execs will be able to make, look at what's already been achieved in one of the trickiest areas to get right and that's comedy.

 

Since Cheryl Taylor joined the commissioning team as comedy commissioning executive she has made an enormous impact on our Northern and Scottish comedy development and production. Cheryl is based in Manchester but her beat is the whole of the UK – and I can tell you she is utterly committed to being not based in London.

 

The fruits are there to see in award-winning comedy shows such as Ideal and BBC Three's great new show, Massive. New shows include two sitcoms for BBC One from Scotland this autumn. And there's lots more great comedy in the pipeline from Manchester and Scotland.

 

Also based in Manchester is Sumi Connock, who is out of London Commissioner for Daytime (and Early Peak) programming. And now we are moving more channels and commissioning to Salford with Children's, Learning, Sport and Five Live, so a lot of commissioning capacity is going to Salford as well as the Nations.

 

Summing up

 

I hope that I have not overwhelmed you with too much detail – but as you can tell, it's a very detailed story. A lot of preparation has gone into making our plans sustainable in the long term, while providing value for money for the Licence Fee payer.

 

There is much to do. But I can honestly say that I believe the prize is worth it. This really is one of the pivotal moments in the history of the BBC. It is one of the most fundamental transformations I have been involved with in my entire career.

 

It all comes down to unlocking talent.

 

The outcome, I believe, will be a BBC that is stronger and serves the UK better. A BBC that is more in tune with viewers and more visibly at the heart of communities.

 

A BBC that is better equipped to meet audience demands, and at a time when society and media consumption patterns are changing so fast.

 

A BBC that is a partnering organisation, looking outward to the communities it serves and using their talents to make great programmes and driving the development of the creative industries at which the UK excels.

 

A BBC that can contribute to a creative renaissance for all the nations and regions of the UK.

 

Finally, I've been thinking about something Van Gogh had to say about not wasting creative talent. This is how he put it: "One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever comes to sit by it. Passers by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on the way."

 

I believe the changes we are making at the BBC will make it possible for us to unlock more of that talent, to share it and celebrate it, wherever it may be.

 

Thank you for listening and I'd be delighted to answer your questions.

 



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