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Jana Bennett

Director of Television


Speech given at RIDF event in Birmingham


Friday 21 April 2006
Printable version

Investing in Ideas

 

Check against delivery

 

Thanks to you all for coming to this – I know that most of you have come a fair distance to be here.

 

I've come here to talk to you because all of you – production companies, public funding agencies, city councils and BBC executives – are part of the growth of 'Out of London' production – the work of the creative community everywhere but in the big smoke.

 

That production expertise, with ideas and the talent to make those ideas happen, is a huge resource for the audience. My job, and the job of my commissioners, is to make best use of that resource, to make sure that the best of those ideas find their way to our audiences.

 

And what I want to outline for you today is how we're investing in those ideas.

 

We have now of course secured a new 10 year charter, although we're still waiting for the license fee settlement to enable us to put all of our plans into practise. But the agreement on the new charter doesn't mean we're going to take our foot off the gas in terms of out of London production.

 

I want to be clear that the BBC's strategy is for the long term, and that we're looking for an even stronger relationship with the production sector across the UK.

 

In the new connected world, investing in ideas, and investing in audiences is what our business should be about – backed by a diverse and flexible production sector.

 

We're in the heart of Birmingham's independent creative community here. The Custard Factory used to be, well, a Custard Factory.

 

It was built 100 years ago by a pharmacist, Sir Alfred Bird, in a time long before television, hard though that is to imagine. At a time when all custard was made with eggs, he set out to make an eggless custard, to suit his wife's delicate digestion.

 

Eventually he produced just such a custard, in powder form – necessity certainly proving the mother of invention. At one point Alfred Bird had a thousand people making the stuff, and it earned him a knighthood. And in case you were thinking he was a one-hit wonder, he also invented baking powder.

 

The Custard Factory today is home to a different sort of invention.

 

There are dozens of television production companies, other small creative businesses and artists here. Around the country there are many creative hubs like this making the stuff that will feed digital Britain - with what I guess you could call the custard of culture.

 

The BBC is very much a part of this new digital economy and proud of it too.

 

Across the UK, it's independent companies who are playing a leading role in developing the creative industries.

 

There are companies that have been committed to network production out of London for years, working for all broadcasters. There are also companies that are deciding to move here, or to invest in local talent.

 

It's their ideas, and the risks they take to bring them to the audience, which drive our industry.

 

And I'm proud of the independent programmes that have come from these companies already – the dramas like Conviction and Casanova produced by Red Productions in Manchester, entertainment series from Northern Ireland like Waddell Media's What Kids Really Think for BBC ONE, comedy like Ideal from Baby Cow North for BBC THREE, and excellent factual series such as Beyond Boundaries from Diverse Bristol.

 

Coming up in the next few months is Drop Dead Gorgeous from Hattrick North for BBC THREE – about the trials and tribulations of a teenage supermodel and her sister, Sinchronicity, with a great twist on the '20something drama' from Shine, the series Make Me a Baby from Mentorn Scotland and a quirky film for BBC TWO from Pier Productions, winners of an RIDF award a couple of years ago, called When We Were Scouts.

 

They're all part of the story that one third of our network production outside London now comes from independent producers.

 

We want to see more of these shows at the heart of the network schedules.

 

And what I recognise is that we should be supporting the companies that are willing to do this for us giving them development resources to compete for the business.

 

The fantastic thing about the new digital economy is that content can be made anywhere, with no need for heavy capital investment or masses of staff – so investing in ideas really is the way forward.

 

Over the years we've been investing more and more in network production outside London - since 1998, the level of network spend outside London has increased by 76%, the equivalent of £130 million - and we're fully committed to increasing the geographical diversity of UK production, with independent producers and BBC departments across the UK making network shows.

 

For me there's a real creative dividend to be earned from our production bases across the country.

 

We need to draw on that talent and those stories to make programmes that audiences around the country can relate to more closely, that deal with issues and places they recognise more vividly.

 

There has to be a great idea at the heart of it, though. Like last week's Manchester Passion on BBC THREE – using the music of the Manchester scene to tell this powerful religious story, set firmly in the Manchester of today.

 

Seeing Darren Morfitt up in the town hall's clocktower sing the Stone Roses 'I am the Resurrection' to a huge crowd, live, summed up for me what taking risks and connecting with your audience is all about.

 

And the audiences are certainly coming to these programmes. I've also been particularly proud of the bringing together of different BBC inhouse departments in the hugely popular BBC TWO series Coast, nominated for a Bafta this year for best Factual Series – with the lead inhouse producer here in Birmingham – and supporting programmes made by independent producers.

 

The Sea is in the next wave of this popular series showing the best of our islands, and independents will again be involved at a local level.

 

Restoration, from Endemol Scotland, was another hugely ambitious event made outside London – and there's another series of that in production, this time focussing on buildings in rural communities.

 

That's coming this summer, and at nine hours will make a real impact in the BBC TWO schedules.

 

Investing in ideas from the creative industries can have other benefits. It can raise the national profile of a region. Two of our crime dramas are set in and around Birmingham, Dalziel and Pascoe, and Mayo.

 

Further up the M6, Life on Mars has evoked nostalgia for the 'old' Manchester and shows just how far and how fast the modern city has grown.

 

The pride that people feel when they see their part of the country shown on screen makes a big difference to their appreciation of the BBC.

 

This investment in ideas means that there are huge opportunities for production companies.

 

50% of network drama will be produced outside London by 2012; the WoCC will open up another £250 million of BBC television business to be competed for by independents across the UK, and the BBC is moving towards a target it's set itself of increasing network spend in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by 50%.

 

Our strategy for production out of London is an integrated one – the regional development fund, training programmes to develop talent, a range of production centres outside London, and increasing commissioning from independents.

 

It's a strategy that's working. Production out of London is becoming sustainable because we're doing it to increase the range and diversity of our output – and emphatically not just to meet a quota.

 

Network production out of London is now becoming more focussed – each BBC network centre is a centre of excellence for certain programme genres, to enable more targeted programme making, and there's a strategy to develop the independent sector in the different parts of the country to match our programme needs – in which the RIDF plays an important role.

 

Our commissioning is more devolved, with commissioners based in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and soon in Glasgow.

 

The move of the two national childrens channels, Sport, Radio 5 Live & New Media up the road in Manchester will also provide a new commissioning centre for producers across the North. But the story here goes far beyond that city.

 

We aim for all areas of the country to benefit from the BBC's move of commissioning and production into the creative centres around the UK.

 

The BBC's spend on programmes outside London is already over £700 million a year - with around £500 million of that on television.

 

In 'Building Public Value' we set a target to increase our overall spend outside London over the next charter period to £1 billion a year - upping our investment by a third.

 

In addition, we committed to locating at least half the BBC's public service staff, and 20% of commissioning decisions by value outside London.

 

Of course we're not alone in investing. We're proud of the partnerships that we're making with the other agencies to develop the media economies around Britain.

 

The screen agencies, regional development agencies and local authorities are playing a terrific role in supporting production of all forms of film, television and the newer media, and I'm very glad to see so many of you here.

 

The investment that's going into television and other forms of digital content will provide a firm foundation for the future growth of the sector, and I'm confident that with broadcasters, independents and other agencies working together we can bring about a strong future for UK production.

 

Five months ago I announced the doubling of the Regional Independents Development Fund for this year to support independent production companies across the UK to develop new ideas for us, as well as associated training schemes.

 

I'm delighted that that announcement has led to this event and it's a real pleasure to see so many producers gathered together here today.

 

I'm looking forward to seeing you all make a contribution to the various BBC networks in the future.

 

I'll now hand over to the BBC's Independents Executive, Krishan Arora, who will now tell you about the RIDF scheme and what it's achieved.

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