Former BBC executive Tom Archer’s criticisms of commissioning last week sparked much debate among our readers. Danny Cohen and Delissa Needham have their say
Danny Cohen, Director of Television, BBC
I was surprised to read the gross generalisations and animus from Tom Archer with regard to commissioning.
Like everyone else, commissioners should always strive to improve the way they work and the quality of their relationships. They should also be open to feedback.
At the same time, there are very many great relationships between commissioners and producers within the BBC and across our industry, based on creative partnership and a shared goal to make the best possible programme.
It’s also true that a good commissioner has a talent for spotting ideas that audiences will love and their perspective can often help make a programme even better. All of us need to have huge respect for programme-makers, but the respect needs to go both ways and I saw little of that in Tom’s comments.
Delissa Needham, Producer
The bit in Tom’s rant that really rang my bell was the stuff about schedulers and the “digitally precise consumption” – decisions based on gathered information.
Producers think it’s a simplistic process: work your guts out, bet the kids’ holiday money on a one-off production or first series and if the commissioner is pleased, more are bound to follow.
But a commission is not based on the number who actually watched the programme but the number that the statisticians claim watched it.
The measuring device is the most ludicrously faulty system – what we watch is governed by a small number of people, not the entire country of viewers. So, I blame our industry’s difficulties firmly on the thorn in my side: Barb. This is the cloacae through which all of the TV world passes.
Advertising revenue, boring schedules, desperately needed recommissions, production companies staying afloat: all are governed by 5,100 Barb-registered panellists. You live or die by the Barbed sword.
If you are a robust terrestrial channel, your larger slice of that pie means automatically that your stats are more reliable – whereas the lower-viewed digital channels are probably represented by one or two people.
But things are changing. Those essential money men – the advertisers – now rely more on Twitter feed information.
We are seeing growth in the launch of online channels and with the likes of Google and Yahoo!, measurement is accurate and fast. I wonder if the day will come when Barb is a blunt sword.
Later in the summer, Barb will introduce computer tracking into 700 homes, again it is not much of a measurement and a somewhat slow response to a changing market. Cross-platform measurement of content should be happening right now.
But do we really need this reliance on measurement? Shouldn’t we just be making good, watchable programmes for the few as well as the many? In particular, isn’t that what the licence fee is for?
Tom Archer - Industry Views
“A committee culture is threatening to kill creativity at every step. There are some great commissioners who really want to provide the space to make great shows, but that is often undermined by a stream of contradictory notes that can send edits into meltdown. “If shows are struggling to pull in ratings after a process of intensive and extensive meddling, how might the audience react to programmes made the oldfashioned way: by producers and execs rather than tiers of commissioners swept up by concerns that have little to do with making great content?” Producer
“Tom’s analysis is spot-on, though some commissioners display real creative crust and become channel controllers. We must hope that Charlotte Moore’s successor in documentaries allows that creativity to shine.” Producer
“It’s odd that many TV commissioners have adopted the medieval concept of Papal infallibility. I guess it helps them feel OK about not replying to emails, but the schedules suggest their decisions have more to do with formulaic imitation than divine intervention – which of course may be the only way to bring commissioning folk down to our level.” Producer
“A commissioning editor will often oversee 20 or more hours of programming within his or her genre and tends to have the same editorial approach to all those programmes, leading to a ‘sameness’ in style. But the culture of fear means no one challenges them.” Indie boss
“If I was starting out in the industry now I’d try to get in as an administrator for a commissioner, as it seems if you work yourself up that pole you’ll earn very good money indeed. Meanwhile, production staff have to do more and more and more for less and less and less.” Producer