What impact will a consolidated ITV plc have on its regional USP? What role should the BBC play in supporting the regions and what is the definition of a 'regional production' anyway? Broadcast brings together key television executives to answer these que
Clare Morrow (CM): I don't think there is a short-term or a long-term threat to ITV's regional identity. ITV has appointed (current ITV joint managing director) Clive Jones to oversee regional programming. It is probably the first time that the issue of regional programming and news in a regional and network sense will be debated at the top of ITV. I don't think it's under as much threat as everyone likes to say it is. If you look at the figures, something like 9.2 million people are watching regional news on either ITV or the BBC. That's a big audience and I don't think it's an audience that people will want to get rid of.Steve Hewlett (SH): I don't see any reason to think regional programming won't get stronger and end up being better resourced. In terms of training and career paths you can see regional news improving as a consequence of being one organisation. It's in no one's interest to tinker with that because it's the one bit of regional programming that undoubtedly works and companies would almost certainly be doing it whether they were mandated to or not.As far as the rest of the regional output goes, ITV won't run away from its obligations, it's in its licence commitments. It has to be said though - and I don't think this is just an issue for ITV - there's a broader question here about regional programming. I don't think I'm speaking out of turn when I say that all broadcasters regard each other's regional programmes as points of schedule weakness because audiences don't go to them in large enough numbers. They're targeted ruthlessly and very commercially by the BBC when they turn up on ITV and vice versa.CM: I think there's a difference between perception of schedule weakness and reality of schedule weakness. My programming is not untypical of the ITV regions and out of 44 programmes scheduled against EastEnders, 19of them have had a 20% plus audience. That's stronger than many network shows that go up against EastEnders. I think the problem is that it's difficult to explain to advertisers in London. One of the things we've been thinking of in the Granada ITV companies is how you can schedule together similarities in regional programming to allow it to have more of an identity.Pat Loughrey (PL): It used to be duty programming, but suddenly when it's loved, when it's resourced in anything like a comparable way to network programmes, it begins to deliver. It's about not patronising or underestimating your audience. It's not about locality, it's about the level of commitment and the level of resources you make available to those programmes. There's evidence both in ITV and in the BBC for well-made local programmes that deliver hugely. I'm really pleased to get the resounding commitment from ITV to their regional roots, that can only be good for the business and good for the BBC.Alan Clements (AC:) What you've seen in the past few years in Scottish television is both a good thing in that budgets have shot up and a bad thing in that you're absolutely charged in Scotland with outperforming the network. If you don't outperform your network, no matter what the cultural importance is of what you're doing, you'll get canned. So we make history programmes about Scotland for BBC2 Scotland - funded at£100,000 an hour, not£20,000 an hour - that compete with BBC2 network. If it didn't compete we wouldn't be able to make it. But I think also the key driver with BBC1 in Scotland is that it's overtaken STV, but if you strip it away, the key driver of that has been live Scottish Premiership football.PL: I won't deny that because it's a hell of an investment to acquire the rights.Stuart Cosgrove (SC): Beating the benchmark goes against the historic grain that programmes made outside London for the nations or the English regions have to be tolerated within the schedule. I think that we should be moving away from that. We should be required to have a benchmark. If that benchmark happens to be beating the network then so be it.Phil Redmond (PR):Once ITV gets itself sorted out, they'll say forget all that nonsense that we've been doing before, now we're one company we're going to be driven by shareholder value and we're going to take on the regulators.They'll go back to the reason why Granada used to deliver 25% of the network programming. It wasn't because they had the best ideas but because they were cheaper. A lot of production will move out simply on the basis that if you want it cheaper, stick it in the regions because the cost-base is smaller.SH: We have to be clear about the commercial significance of regional output. At the moment there are licence commitments that, with good faith, people will meet and on news and current affairs there's a clear public purpose being served. I don't think they are in imminent danger of extinction but there will be pressure on them in so far as the broadcasters don't see them as commercial opportunities. If you want to take the pressure off these opt-out slots, someone's going to have to reinvent them as commercial opportunities.QUALITY vs QUANTITYAlex Graham (AG): There's a danger in that whenever you sit down and have these kinds of conversations that the relationship between the quality of the programming and the response of the audience somehow ceases to apply when you go outside the M25. The relationship between quality programmes and the audience is exactly the same whether you're in Glasgow or Manchester or London or Plymouth or wherever.Margaret Scott (MS): When ITV's regional output was standardised to 8.5 hours it was said that budgets would increase but there's not really been any noticeable difference or change in the budgets in those slots.The ITV fund sits on top of that and is pan-English regions, which I think is an interesting move, as the commissioned programmes are shown across England. But again the budgets are around£20,000 for half an hour. Now I think the budgets and the quality of the programmes, the audience and the way they're actually delivered, is something that should be looked at in ITV. Both money and commitment are important. I would not dispute the commitment of the people at ITV's regional licences to that region. But the resources that they're given and allowed to play with make it very difficult. I think there is a serious crisis in regional television in all English regions. I would not say there is the same crisis in the nations.Wayne Garvie (WG): There is a crisis within ITV regional programming as opposed to network programming and that's a separate issue. The Independent Television Commission (ITC) got hung up on volume rather than cost and once the ITV companies were able to drive down the cost base for every programme, that screwed it up. What happened was you could no longer invest in talent you needed both on and off screen to make quality programmes.When I started at Granada our regional production was fantastic. We were doing extraordinary shows with people like Caroline Aherne and Steve Coogan, run by people like Stuart Prebble and David Liddiment, which you simply can't do now. It's a real problem, but it's also an opportunity for independents and for the BBC to maximise the talent base in those regions. That's why we've now opened the comedy department in Manchester.SH: But you still need someone who's got the money to put the show on.WG: Yes, but they can develop long-term rrelationships with the talent in the way that the ITV companies used to do.SH: The long-term relationships ITV companies used to have with talent was based on the fact it could put them on the air.WG: If you're an independent there's plenty of places to sell your programming. There are lots more channels now than there were in the past. The budget for a regional slot is probably no smaller than what you'd get from Bravo.SC: I think the independent sector is more capable of offering value for money to the regional broadcaster than an ITV franchisee. The real challenge is not how do you sustain a body of regional programming which could be made in-house or by indies, but how do you do that in the context whereby you're carrying studio overheads? It was clearly a challenge for the Central/Carlton merger. I think it will be an even bigger challenge for the full ITV merger. You wouldn't put a lot of money on all the studios surviving.MS: A studio does not make a regional production centre. It's the community, the talent and the cluster around that activity that makes it.AG: We shouldn't be going to the barricades to defend a kind of 1950s-style studio complexes or production culture. What we should be thinking about is about how we're going to develop new technologies and how we're going to maintain skills in those areas.MS: Broadcasters should be working together to create shared facilities.WHAT ABOUT THE BBC?CM: Yorkshire TV is a company that keeps a lot of talent in the north.What's the BBC doing? We (YTV) employ 1,000 people and only around 200of them are on regional programming. The BBC employs 100 people. It does no production. It's not helping to sustain the independents who are not struggling because ITV isn't supporting them, they're struggling because they could do with another raft of help from the BBC and Channel 4.PL: The BBC has belatedly learned that regional programming can be very successful. Who would have thought some years ago that regional news would be the most popular news programme in the UK? We need to have more genres in the English regions, and independents can play a huge part in delivering more than just news and current affairs. The lesson from the nations is, when you invest, when you believe in the identity and distinctiveness of these places, it's richly repaid in terms of performance.SC: Fundamentally, we're in a new era whereby the devolution of administration is commonplace. A whole set of industries outside broadcasting are not so fixated about London. I think the BBC has probably the greatest national obligation in this area. I think it's wrong that so many channels owned by a national broadcaster are in a single city. It doesn't make sense.AC: We wouldn't be having this discussion today if they had put C4 in Liverpool and Channel 5 in Leeds and BBC3 in Manchester and children's BBC in Glasgow.PL: Inevitably, the BBC's the big beast. I think you'll find that the BBC will look at where the decisions are made. It's hard to explain why an organisation like ours that's funded in the way we are should make so many key decisions in one place.THE CAREER LADDERWG: If C4 had been based outside London, broadcasting in this country would have been completely different. However, as much as I think moving a channel out of London would be fantastic, you need more than one person commissioning programming. You want a fundamental shift in the power relationships and actually moving BBC2 or BBC3 doesn't mean anything if it's moving one or two people. You've got to look at something that's more substantial in terms of long-term jobs and the shifting power structures within broadcasting. And you're right, that's what the BBC should be looking at.SC: There was an audit of screen industries in Scotland recently and what was significant about it was the levels of production growth within that sector. There was significant growth in terms of programmes made and production companies and news, but there was not a single iota of growth - nil growth - in the kinds of middle management jobs that are associated with the act of broadcasting and scheduling jobs, planning jobs.WG: If you work in a regional centre, if you work outside London there comes a point when your career can't advance. Actually, if you want a career, at some stage you're going to have to go to London - that's the real problem.CM: The reason that Leeds is a very strong production base now is because (Granada director of drama, children's, arts and features) John Whiston, who is a talented man, with big responsibilities, is based in the north.It was a very, very deliberate move to put some talent in the north that made that happen.SH: That was an accident of history really - an unintended consequence of the ITV licence system. Because of programme guarantees, talent clusters grew up around those companies. Unless somebody makes a decisive move to force commissioners to take network programmes from the regions in the manner of programme guarantees - or a modern-day equivalent - it won't happen.PR: You also can't divorce technology from this debate. The BBC can jump up and down and talk about reach as much as it likes but in actual fact it can't deny that terrestrials continue to lose ground. What it means is that the only thing we as the industry and we as licence players can influence will be what is spent on the BBC and actually what the BBC does. Everybody else will be driven by market forces. When John Birt did decamp religion to Manchester - and he also decamped Janet Street-Porter's youth department hoping that she'd keep quiet and she never did, they all kept their offices in White City. So they had religion and youth in Manchester but when you tried to get hold of them they were all in White City. And what they actually did is have two cost centres. So it's the BBC we've got to try and talk about - about devolving a lot of its broadcasting functions. Its commissioning and budgeting has got to go through regions too, then you get your career path. And as far as C4 is concerned, surely Stuart should be given the voice and the political clout that his title suggests.SC: I would agree with that. Since our targets came into play there's been a significant shift of the programme budget. Up to£112m of C4's original programme budget was spent outside of London last year. That is against the grain of what C4 did in the years prior to this target.LONDON-CENTRICITYSH: The key question is how far does pester power get you? It's a basic thing. If you're in London, the fact that the commissioning editor delays the meeting three times, you can live with. If you've had to come from Manchester and Liverpool and Glasgow and Belfast or wherever, it's an absolute arse. C4 is heavily reliant on pester power and that's why Stuart's role as a champion inside the channel for producers beyond London is so absolutely critical.SC: There has been 400% growth in Glasgow since the office was set up.I would argue that the capacity for Glasgow producers to have pester power has grown. That doesn't solve things for Leeds, definitely doesn't solve things for Bristol which I think has not been significantly advantaged. But companies such as Wark Clements, Ideal World and Maverick in Birmingham have witnessed exponential growth in the past six years.AG: Wall to Wall has been through the process of setting up a satellite business. We failed to make it work and I think for a variety of reasons partly because we didn't get the talent right, partly because of the cynicism of the broadcasters who said: "Great, so the show you've been making in London you can make in Manchester." For me, that was like having two cost bases and I was left thinking it didn't work for me. We've gone into a joint-venture with Red Production now, not because Red is based in Manchester but because it's one of the most talented companies. Red Wall is going to be a Manchester-based company and that's exciting for me, but if (Red founder) Nicky Shindler had come to me and she'd been based in Fulham, the fact that she's Nicky Shindler would have meant I still would have done the deal.REGIONAL DEFINITIONSPR: The definition from Ofcom is a classic example of people sitting round in London deciding what would be a good thing for the regions. The only way of pure sustained growth is to control the rights and to me it's saying that all the control will remain in London but the production can be anywhere.What you'll get is the headquarters in London and sweatshops in the regions.AG: Ofcom's definition, with a couple of fairly minor caveats, is good because it puts at its heart the importance of growing regional production centres and actually creating ongoing clusters of talent. But, they've diluted the percentage of talent that is required to live in the regions to 50% which is wrong.The balance should be 70% across both talent and production spend.MS: The discussions surrounding the definitions of regional programming are saying that the location of the production is not good enough, it's got to be about employment opportunities and it's got to be about economic investment in the region. It's not about independents and it's not about broadcasters, it's about the regional production centres and developing them and evolving them.THE VALUE OF QUOTASAC: I don't think ideologically anybody could like them but it feels to me that it's a question of - as they used to say in the Nixon White House - if you've got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow.MS: What we need to avoid is putting regional indies in a quota box.They can make regionally qualifying productions and can also make productions that qualify for the other quota which is the London ring-fenced quota.SC: Most people are happy that the financial services sector regulates trust funds and all the rest of it, so I don't see why television is so grumpy about the fact that it's regulated.SH: The question is what's the objective? Are you setting these quotas for some political or other kind of reason which is about social engineering?SC: I think an unintended consequence of the (Communications) Act is that... there's a presumption that a regional producer's job is to produce in the UK when in fact that would be historically threatening to something like Alan's business in the sense that it's a national co-producer working for broadcasters outside the UK.PL: I worry about the sense of obligation it implies as opposed to choice that lies behind it.TAKING PART1 PAT LOUGHREY (PL) - Director, nations and regions, BBC2 ALEX GRAHAM (AG) - Chief executive, Wall to Wall3 STUART COSGROVE (SC) - Director, nations and regions, Channel 44 PHIL REDMOND (PR) - Founder, Mersey TV5 CLARE MORROW (CM) - Controller of regional programmes, YTV6 WAYNE GARVIE (WG) - Head of BBC entertainment group7 STEVE HEWLETT (SH) - Managing director, Carlton Productions8 MARGARET SCOTT (MS) - Director of nations and regions, Pact9 ALAN CLEMENTS (AC) - Managing director, Wark ClementsIN CONCLUSIONPL: Believing in your own voice and the quality of what you have to say and its relevance to wider audiences is hugely important to the whole regional issue. There's a sense of opportunity, of going beyond quotas to address the wider world of broadcasting. If we can work together with independent companies and the rest of industry as represented around this table to nurture that self-confidence in the nations and regions of the whole UK, then we'll have done a great thing.WG: The future's going to be about partnership between broadcasters and independents and in-house producers. We need to change the power structure in the industry and there's no doubt that the BBC's instrumental in that. We accept that and it's going to be an interesting debate in the next year. But, overall, I think the future's quite bright. New technology is going to transform broadcasting in this country and that's a fantastic opportunity for regionalism whatever "regionalism" is.AC: If a nation or a region is given high-quality, well-funded, well-resourced programming, then it will watch it. The message is absolutely clear. The BBC's never been stronger in Scotland certainly since the 1950s.On the quota questions: in a selling job, no one wants to feel somebody's obliged to take a product, so I think we should offer a deal: move the headquarters and I'll happily give up the regional quota. I think the BBC has a public service obligation to move one of its channels out. A children's channel would be easily moved and would make a huge difference.I actually think the problem is London parochialism because London's such a fantastic international city, the problem is getting them out of it.CM: The reason I'm so optimistic is that I think a lot of these discussions are outmoded. It's all down to commercial imperative in the end. Television audiences are dwindling and every channel needs as many as they can. There are more people living outside London than inside London and I think inevitably it will drift to regional being far more important. I think this has got a momentum that will take off anyway. The reason I'm so optimistic about ITV is that it's more important for ITV than anybody else.SC: For me it's really the correlation between the diversity of production and the diversity of power in a sense of key programme commissioning decisions which still remain overly focused in London. I'm less worried about the kind of cultural diversity. I'm more interested in the question of production.Look at Phil's experience at Mersey - it's clearly the case that when you have the power to be able to produce in volume across a period of time and, in this case, a returning genre in drama there are all sorts of different talent that aggregates towards that opportunity. Unfortunately there's been too few of these opportunities across the UK.PR: I think it is about commercial imperatives and technology. We're in a transitional phase and if we want to manipulate and manage that phase the best we can, the one thing we can't lose sight of is the£3bn cultural fund that the licence fee provides. The real way forward is to say that the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, has obligations in the social and cultural agenda so we should look to the BBC to devolve its structure - make itself more regional and use BBC1 as a national channel, BBC2 as a regional channel and the regions themselves should be autonomous with decision making, budgeting and building career paths. In return for the BBC having to do this it should be cut free from this, probably self-imposed, feeling that it has to compete with the commercial broadcasters.Commercial broadcasters which are controlled public service broadcasters should be cut free completely from all that.The BBC should be PSB with very strong regional remits locking into social agendas and channels 3, 4 and 5 should be commercial and free to go wherever they like and do whatever they like.MS: There's a lot broadcasters can learn from what the regional indies are doing in terms of their businesses. One of the things that we had to address - which is a huge problem within the independent sector - is research and development. There's been very poor investment and poor quality research and development in the English regions on the part of the broadcasters. If we address that in the same way the independents had to address it, then we're going some way to having that community back out there.If the creative talent has a base and a quality of employment and if production comes out of that then hopefully one day we can tear up those regional definitions and quotas. We need them at the moment because the will is having to be forced. That's why it's imperative to get the definition of regional programming right - it needs to be real. If it's not real then you may as well tear it up.AG: I think there's a sense of optimism around this table, which I share.The most exciting change for me in the past five years has been the evaporation of the cringe culture and kind of inferiority complex in the regions. The opportunity is there, the question is do we take it or not and I think we might be at a turning point. We've got to get rid of this notion of regional obligations. It's about a restructuring and a rethinking.Let's sweep away this 20th century structure and think about a power structure which is right for the 21st century. Let's give the people who create IP the power and ability to create a relationship between their creativity and the return they get.SH: Culturally and creatively Britain is becoming more decentralised.In television we either adapt to that and embrace it or we lose as a result.The outcome of Ofcom's review of public service broadcasting is an ideal opportunity to hold up what are the traditional and historic obligations placed on ITV and C4 in terms of regional production for the network and also regional programming. If ITV's going to be successful you have to hold up the obligations you place on ITV and on ITV companies in exchange for the licences against the commercial reality. I look to the public service broadcasting review as the first step.