Indies open to iPlayer plans if BBC also embraces change, writes Chris Curtis
A full-on BBC charm offensive kicked off this week at the lavish surroundings of the Sky Garden, as Charlotte Moore and her team of controllers and commissioners reached out to the production community.
BBC speeches generally require a little reading between the lines, but this one was more transparent than most – director of content Moore asked the UK’s premier indie bosses to help the corporation supercharge the iPlayer, and not to desert it for the riches on offer from Silicon Valley.
Much of what she said resonated with the audience and there was no shortage of goodwill in the room. Moore made the case eloquently for a 12-month window for indie shows, flagging that the BBC is “not driven by commercial imperative” and suggesting its cash would be better spent backing fresh original ideas than paying for an extended online run.
“We won’t let your work disappear without trace down the back of a global VoD library,” she said, claiming that more views via iPlayer would lead to “global success and greater commercial value” for producers.
“The production community does want a strong BBC and broadly acknowledges the common-sense logic that a new generation of viewers expect to able to watch shows for longer”
I’m not sure indies necessarily buy that argument, but it may well be the case that Moore’s message smooths negotiations in the future. The production community does want a strong BBC and broadly acknowledges the common-sense logic that a new generation of viewers expect to able to watch shows for longer.
But they do want something else from the corporation – which is for the BBC to genuinely enact Moore’s pledge to make “a big change in the way we commission shows”.
Speedier decision-making and greater willingness to supersize successful shows topped off the wishlist among indies I spoke to. They feel that if the corporation is urging them to embrace a new era, then it needs to change the way it operates too.
Intriguingly, Moore floated the idea of just such a radical reappraisal. Tucked away in her speech was the commitment that “we won’t think in slots, genre, length, or any one size fits all terms. iPlayer brings a new-found freedom and we can be agile and full of surprises.”
That will require a major shift of culture and mindset, for an organisation that has for decades sought specific types of shows, for specific parts of the schedule at specific (and often inflexible) price points.
The BBC is fully funding fewer and fewer shows, and deficit financing for non-scripted titles is becoming increasingly common, just as new buyers enter the fray – Disney+, for example, has already commissioned yet-to-be announced non-scripted titles from British indies.
Moore’s pledge to “push creative boundaries” and demonstrate “spirit, authorship and ambition” will be vital. If the corporation can’t compete in financial terms it must become the best creative partner out there.
- Chris Curtis is editor in chief of Broadcast