Tuesday, June 25, 2013

BBC Television Commissioning is rotten at the core apparently....

Great video of Tom Archer, (though the audio with its 100Hz buzz drives me crazy)

I have always been a believer that if you want to lead a creative production process, whether its radio, TV or  emerging media, you have to have experience in making great content to a deadline. According to a Guardian article by Maggie Brown , all is not well in the land of TV channel controllers - because they tend to be bureaucrats not programme makers. I have always argued that making a programme is easy if you have enough time and money. The skill is to be creative on a tight deadline and a small budget.

Tom Archer, a former senior BBC factual programming executive, has painted an unflattering picture of TV commissioners.
Archer, based in Bristol and paid nearly £200,000 a year, was responsible for about 1,000 programme-makers in key areas – including natural history and popular documentaries such as Coast. His inaugural lecture, as a visiting professor at Bristol's University of the West of England earlier this month, took as its starting point the proposition that "there is something really rotten in the state of television today".
This was caused, he said, by a centralised system of commissioning by people who increasingly have no real experience of the production process they oversee, and who comprise an "uncreative crust".
He painted a picture of a system rooted in the "pseudoscience" of broadcasting, analysing and applying lessons from digital information about audience behaviour – down to the point, to a split second, at which test groups switch off, or lose attention.
Archer argued that this promises the impossible – the illusion that there is a way to guarantee everything made is a hit. Instead, he said it was a recipe for dull and copycat programming.
His reading of recent television history is that the rise of independent production in the 1980s, however desirable as a means of injecting diversity and competition, also handed more power to a growing band of commissioners and channel controllers, as broadcasters became increasingly publisher/broadcasters; heads of in-house production departments (such as Archer) lost out.
After 2000, he claimed, controllers took total control of final decision-making on programme commissions. Like the trusted advisers in a royal court, their power can be enormous." He claimed:
"It is a regular sight to see a channel controller in a meeting with may be a dozen advisers, and not a single one of them has ever actually made a programme."
Archer sounded bitter, yet his conclusion, that commissioning rather than programme-making is now the way to the top in television, is accurate (with a few honourable exceptions). It is also equally true that there are far too many independent producers chasing commissions, but that a successful pitch can from time to time turn into the stepping stone to serious money. Either way, commissioners are indulged as demi-gods, even if both sides privately decry each other.
Not sure we're hearing anything we didn't already know here. More than 50+ commissioners at the BBC just on factual! But what Archer doesn't tackle is the wide disparity in budgets across the BBC, as well as technical facilities. London is boasting the most modern newsroom in the world. But some of the outposts of the BBC in places like Nottingham and Oxford look to me like relics of the late 1980's. With budgets often unevenly distributed, there is little room for experimentation. Many producers have become "slave" to the transmission deadlines.
Reminds me of Armando Iannucci's BAFTA lecture again. Great to see him on the Daily Show.

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