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Jana Bennett


Jana Bennett

Director, BBC Vision

Speech to Broadcast Commissioning Conference, Manchester

Thursday 23 November 2006
Printable version

It's great to be back in Manchester, or should I say, I now realise that this venue is in Salford, where I now feel very at home, and I'm sure I will be coming back here a lot in future.


It's become a place that BBC executives now approach a tad warily. We know that every time we come anywhere near the North West we're going to get bombarded with questions about one subject: Salford.


I'm not here to talk about Salford. But - for the record - I am totally in favour of the plan that the BBC's drawn up.


I think the proposal to move the whole of London Children's, children's commissioning and the two channels to Salford is a fantastic idea, and I know Controller of Children's, Richard Deverell, is totally on board.


Ultimately, though, Salford is not a matter of principle, but of maths. If the maths are right, we'll do it. There will be more to say once the Licence Fee is determined, so watch this space.


Vision and programme makers


What I want to talk about is what the creation of BBC Vision means for programme-makers. It offers real opportunities to independents and in-house producers. I have some funding announcements which I hope you find interesting.


But I also want to make clear that if we are to make the most of these new opportunities we have to embrace some new ways of thinking.


The context for Vision


To make clear what I mean I need to start with some context.


You hardly need me to tell you how fast this business is changing. And how fast audiences - and audience expectations - are changing. MySpace; YouTube; Second Life: last year they didn't exist, today they are huge media properties with vast global audiences.


As I'm sure you know, Reuters now has a full-time Second Life correspondent with his own virtual office. His beat is a community that exists only in people's heads and on their computer screens – but seems as real to its audience as the world they actually inhabit.


With developments like that, it's no wonder audience expectations are rising sharply, and behaviour is changing in terms of time spent with the web or television.


BBC audiences expect us to offer a richer, more interactive experience than is possible using only our traditional linear television channels.


We've responded to that. But we need to do more, much more.


How Vision is structured


Vision has four genre commissioning groups: Fiction; Entertainment; Knowledge; and Children's.


Fiction is: Drama, Films, Comedy and Acquisitions.


Entertainment is self-explanatory - factual entertainment, panel shows, shiny floor studio shows and so on.


Knowledge is: documentaries, specialist factual, factual formats and features – also including factual entertainment - formal learning, music, arts and religion.


And Children's is, again, multi-genre and self-explanatory.


The new Genre controllers are in place - I have a great commissioning team.


Fiction: Jane Tranter, and within the Fiction commissioning group in charge of all comedy, Lucy Lumsden, and acting during her maternity leave, Cheryl Taylor.


Entertainment: Elaine Bedell.


In Knowledge there's Glenwyn Benson, and her deputy in charge of commissioning Emma Swain.


And at Children's, there's Richard Deverell.


Commissioners remain responsible for their commissions within those areas. For example, in Knowledge, Richard Klein commissions documentaries, both linear and multi-platform content.


On the services side I've just appointed Simon Nelson to a new job, called Portfolio and Multi-platform Controller. Simon will work in the heart of the channel controller team to deliver a multi-platform service strategy – while also developing our scheduling and windowing to get the maximum value from projects.


I'll say a bit more about the commissioning process later on.


What is Vision for?


So, here we are, open and ready to do business. But what is Vision for?


Our creative purpose is simple. It's to deliver great programmes and great content to all our audiences. Now that's what the BBC has always been about. So what's different about Vision?


Vision will be more responsive to audience expectations


What's different is that Vision is structured so that we can respond much more easily and fluidly to those changing audience expectations I spoke of a moment ago. In particular, to respond to audience expectations that the BBC will offer multi-platform experiences.


By multi-platform I mean great content that works not just on our linear television channels but on the web, on mobiles, via the red button; that works for on-demand, or for games – and any other applications you can think of.


Vision abolishes the barriers to multi-platform


The BBC is already doing multi-platform. But we haven't always made it easy for producers offering us multi-platform proposals. That's now changed.


For programme-makers, the immediate big win from the creation of BBC Vision is that we have pulled together full responsibility for multi-platform commissioning to a single point.


We can now offer you a one-stop shop where your ideas can be assessed for their creative potential across all appropriate platforms.


The commissioning editors you are already working with are now responsible for commissioning not just television, but all content across all the platforms of BBC Vision.


Vision offers a new business affairs approach


Alongside this one-stop commissioning shop, we will also have the right business affairs structure to support the new model. And simpler funding flows to make sure investment reaches the places it's really needed – and gets there quickly.


Vision can help indies build multi-platform skills


If you don't have strong multi-platform capability, we still want to hear your ideas. We can work with you to add those extra elements. You can plug into the BBC's own multi-media expertise if you want.


It's the quality of ideas that counts.


I simply want the best ideas for our audiences. Where those ideas come from, in-house or indie, is immaterial. I just want the best ideas.


If you want a great example of multi-platform that started really small, look at How to Start Your Own Country. Six half-hours for BBC Two from Leafstorm featuring Danny Wallace who decides to found a new country in his flat. A country called Lovely.


It was a great idea. But what made it a terrific idea was the multi-platform elements: voting, messaging, red button, its own website. The website has now registered 1 million posts and has given the idea continued life long after the original television series finished.


Next month we're opening the tender for a three-year contract for Question Time. We'll be looking for ideas on how the programme can connect to audiences in new ways – say, by involving the Question Time audience in debating issues beyond the life of the programme.


Vision Studios will compete hard for WOCC commissions


Let me say something here about Vision's own production arm – Vision Studios - and its relation to the commissioning process and the Window of Creative Competition (WOCC).


Vision Studios is led by Peter Salmon and he is shaping Vision Studios into a formidable world class force in content creation. He and his team are going to provide tough creative competition for the independent sector. I make no apology for that.


Under the in-house guarantee, 50% of programming will be sourced from in-house production. But the other 50% is up for indie competition - 25% under the normal indie quota, 25% under the WOCC.


Peter has made it clear that he will be competing hard for those WOCC commissions. But I know that the independent sector will be competing hard too. That's how it should be – that's how standards will be driven up for the benefit of our audiences.


Vision Studios will also play a major role in developing and retaining talent in our network production centres round the country.


As I said on this platform a year ago, we've focused our production centres on specific genres in order to support the development of production talent in each area.


That talent will be working on both independent and in-house productions, creating clusters of creativity across the UK.


I see this as a partnership between the BBC and the independent sector to reverse the talent drain to London.


Some things have not changed


I've talked a lot about change. But some things do remain constant.


The skills of great programme makers - powerful story-telling, strong individual voices, a feel for what makes a compelling subject - these will still be at a premium in the converged world.


We haven't stopped valuing those virtues and those skills. They are fundamental to creating the hits of the future. Our commissioners are still hungry for them.


Nor do I want to give you the idea that everything has to work on every conceivable platform. There will still be space for programmes that exist only on our linear television channels with no manifestation on any other platform. And there will be many programmes that will have only a limited amount of multi-platform support.


We are looking for skyscraper projects


But we operate in a very cluttered media landscape. We need some big projects that really stand out against the media skyline. We've started to call them Skyscraper projects – the ones you can't miss and can't do without.


Skyscraper projects can come from any genre. But they will always have a powerful multi-platform aspect.


I have to tell you, we are looking hard for these skyscraper ideas and we are not inundated with them – yet.


This is not just about add-ons. It's not just about putting new media bells and whistles on linear content.


Remember, too, that the BBC is, a public service broadcaster. The ideas we're after don't have to depend on generating a commercial return. An idea will work for us if it is just a really creative, engaging and memorable way for us to reach our audiences in new ways.


Earth Portal shows the way


There's one project in development that I'm already really excited about. An example of how to wed great content with broadband applications to make something more than the sum of its parts; a richer experience for users.


It's going to be called the Earth Portal, and it will be the place to go on the web for the best natural history, environment and earth sciences content in the world. And also for the best experience in interacting with and influencing this content.


Imagine hundreds of hours of material, available on broadband, searchable and navigable by using the image of the earth turning in space, enabling users to explore, discuss and interact, to build their own "Zoo" of favourite animals – and share that selection online - to rate content, build up preferences and take part in real events.


The Earth Portal is still in the development stage and goes to commission in the New Year.


But it gives you an idea of the way we're moving - to keep up with and anticipate audience demands for richer interactive experiences.


New media thinking may point the way ahead


Increasingly the mould-breaking media ideas are coming not from the traditional springs that have fed broadcasting down the decades, but from within the new media community.


I think it's something about the way the non-linear community thinks – a cast of mind that's fresh, playful, distinctive and inherently innovative.


New blue-skies funding for next year


I want to encourage more of this thinking.


I've already decided to steer £10m of next year's Think Big fund towards projects that support multi-platform content.


In addition I can announce today that I'm earmarking a further £25m over the next two years for projects that embody blue-skies thinking – including standalone web projects.


That's £35m altogether, new investment for this new world – available for independent as well as in-house projects. And we'll use some of this funding to create a select number of pilot projects across different genre areas, in order to learn and innovate.


I should say this new investment is not new money. It's coming from reprioritisation and also internal savings. Our funding is always going to be tight.


To sum up


To sum up: audience expectations are rising fast.


The creation of BBC Vision lets us respond more quickly and more fluidly to those rising expectations.


Vision has multi-platform at its heart.


For the first time it offers producers a one-stop commissioning shop where ideas can be assessed across all platforms right from the start.


We're in the market for skyscraper projects, and projects that embody blue-skies thinking, and I've earmarked funding specifically to encourage this.


To the independent programme makers my message is this: There are great opportunities here if you want to seize them.


But to make the most of them you may need to start thinking in new ways – in particular to start thinking multi-platform.


We can help you do that.


So let's start talking.


BBC Vision is open for business. And we want your best ideas for our audiences.


Thank you.


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