In a letter sent to suppliers this week, C4 director of programmes Tim Gardam promised to make commissioning 'a lot quicker and a lot less bureaucratic'. He said C4 intended to commission throughout the year, with budget round reviews in March and September, and had ring-fenced£15m - 5 per cent of the programme budget - for fast-turnaround projects to be aired next year.
Under the new regime, spurred on by a recent survey among indies, they will have to wait only three months for a response to programme proposals. This year numerous suppliers have complained of waiting more than six months. The June star chamber, in which senior executives meet to finalise budget-round decisions, will be ditched.
The move follows criticisms about C4's 'obsessively centralised' way of working, which some indies say stems from Gardam's perceived autocratic approach. Former Pact vice-chair and Clark TV managing director Bernard Clark has also publicly claimed that C4 factual executives were strangling creativity by constantly interfering in the commissioning process.
The questionnaire was sent to 100 indies in October addressing problem areas such as C4's response rate, its timetable for decisions, the awareness of the business needs of indies, as well as communication with commissioners, programme finance and business affairs.
Feedback from the channel emerged as a weak spot, with 25 per cent of indies saying the channel's response post-programme transmission was poor, while 22 per cent believed it was fair. Elsewhere, 80 per cent of indies believed they had the right amount of dialogue with commissioning editors, although 5 per cent claimed they had 'slightly too much'.
Sixty-five per cent of indies rated the channel's awareness of their business needs as good or fair, while 27 per cent thought it poor. C4 managing editor, commissioning Janey Walker said the channel will 'work on that'.
Seventy-seven per cent of indies perceived the response rate to programme proposals as very good to fair, with 88 per cent claiming C4 had improved its response rate.
Walker added: 'We're very pleased to see this but we are still working on our response rate. There are some areas [of commissioning] that are still slow.' She claimed news, current affairs, documentaries and features were all responding well. She said she would discuss how C4 could improve other areas with commissioning editors at the channel's programme review meeting next week.
The changes have provoked a lukewarm response from indies. One source said: 'The changes are needed but they only make [the commissioning process] slightly more transparent. It's just common sense dressed up as something revolutionary.'
Another told Broadcast: 'The problem with C4 is one of identity and confidence, not of commissioning rounds. This won't make one iota of difference. Everything still has to go through Tim... what would be a real breakthrough is if he let the commissioning editors actually commission stuff.'
Fulcrum Productions joint managing director Christopher Hird added: 'It's good that C4 has listened to criticisms from indies and it's good that it has responded. Now it's up to us to give it a good crack and if it doesn't work, tell [the channel].'