When the British electorate voted for a Conservative government, to replace the previous Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, there were a few predictions of doom for the funding of pubic services in the UK.
For the BBC, the result confirmed that their role, size and funding will be firmly in the sights of the new administration – though I imagine that would also have been the case with a Labour-led coalition. The BBC is saying it will do its own proposals on its role ‘in the internet age’, as it quaintly calls it.
Yesterday I went for the day to Digital Shoreditch, a week long series of talks, meetings, panels about this ‘internet age’. TV seemed very out of place in this online world of apps, services, sites. Friday was the ‘Live’ day, about content and there was a huge range of talks – I think I went to about a dozen in all.
The BBC’s Will Saunders showed a great clip from a year ago about the new short-form video world we were entering, made for a BBC seminar.
If that short-form is too long for you, there’s always Vine – which isn’t meant for oldies like me, I know, but is still a real mystery. One of the top Viners on this US-dominated platform is Brent Rivera. He has good hair at least.
Will also talked about BBC Taster, a site for users to test and rate online content – a taste of things to come?
and also showed a quick run through of the first 90 years of the BBC in its Where Next? campaign from last year. Good question.
The BBC absolutely needs to think about its role as a public service media provider (rather than broadcaster) – and in truth is probably doing more of this thinking, experimenting and planning than other PSBs. And of course that future is online, with content open for viewers/users to interact with – and make themselves. I think if we called it Peoples Broadcasting rather than Public, it might seem less forbidding.
The evening finished with a few beers and music.
The BBC might think God only knows what we’d do without it – but in a world where everybody is making their own choices online, and the license fee is ‘under review’, it’s soon going to be easy enough to opt out. I reckon it’s in all our interests to think about what to do with it.
Comments, ideas, questions all welcome, you could even send me a video…
The UK General Election is tomorrow, May 7th.
One of the issues in the Conservative manifesto is the pledge to hold a referendum about whether the UK stays in the European Union.
But it’s barely featured in this election campaign. The London correspondent of German paper Die Welt has noticed this, but I haven’t seen much else.
I went to the BBC yesterday and they were finishing a giant map of the UK in the courtyard. You can’t really see the rest of the world as you’re hemmed in by the walls of the courtyard…I guess we’re too attached to little Britain
There are lots of domestic issues in this election – much the same as every election – but it’s a globalised world and Britain needs to recognise the opportunities of that. Australia has the same challenges of course.
The following day, Friday May 8th is Victory in Europe Day – the day to commemorate the coming together of Europe after the war. So the election result will be announced on that morning. I’m not talking about commemorating war, but recognising the peace, and the Europe that was constructed out of the ruins of that war.
On the evening of May 7th, BBC is showing its commemorative season about the end of the war, starting with a series by Steve Humphries of Testimony Films, called The Greatest Generation. About the people who built the welfare state and the society we now benefit from in Britain. Some very stirring stories here, and a trailer below.
Steve’s also co-written a book he gave me when I saw him a couple of weeks ago in Bristol.
It’s a good reminder of what we might just have said farewell to if we vote in the current government again, like Ken Loach’s The Spirit of 45 documentary from 2013
Just in case you were wondering which way I’m going to vote, here’s Cassettboy‘s party political broadcast not on behalf of the Conservative Party
Elections are where public broadcasters really have a role to play. The BBC’s audience barely remembers this Greatest Generation – BBC2 channel head Kim Shillinglaw pointed out that as the average age of BBC2 audience is in their 50’s, they grew up on punk rock. Bit of a stretch to say that all of that audience wants programmes with attitude, but I know what she’s getting at.
Speaking of attitude, ‘young person’s channel’ E4 is cleverly switching off for the day tomorrow to encourage people to go out to vote. Darren’s the man in control of the switch.
So if you’re in the UK tomorrow and registered, don’t spend your day trying to watch E4 – please go out and vote.
See you on the other side.
Long gap since my last post, apologies. But last week I went to the annual MIP-TV market in Cannes which gave me plenty to think (and write) about.
I took part in a live-action role play a couple of weeks ago, called Inside Hamlet at Kronborg castle in Denmark. It was set in the 1930s, giving a whole new spin to Shakespeare’s tale. I learnt a massive amount about what history means by acting it out (as a Lutheran exorcist priest).
And this evening I’m watching #RichardReburied on Channel 4, a live programme following the return of the bones of Richard III to his reburial next week in Leicester Cathedral. History made live. What I really like about this coverage is that it’s run as a news event – presented by Jon Snow, with expert scientists, academics, novelists and descendants of Richard III (including an Australian called Wendy Duldig who came over for the event and is Richard’s 14th cousin)
Channel 4 got a very good audience for the original film – The King in the Car Park – three years ago.
But it’s been a great programming idea to make his reburial into a new TV event. Well done to John Hay, the commissioner of the live event, & Darlow Smithson Productions, who also produced the original doc. For making us realise that the identity of a 500 year old king matters.
History has significance – both for our understanding of what happened then, and for what might happen. And in an election year in the UK, that’s very important.
Channel 4 (them again) did a terrific season of programmes on immigration, including Love Productions’ Immigration Street – reduced to a single documentary after certain parts of the community decided they didn’t want it made – and other programmes. One of them was a doc made by Malcolm Brinkworth of Touch Films about an election in 1964 – which took place on the immigration faultline. Immigration will be one of the key issues of the UK General Election.
History is a big part of SBS programming, but making it relevant and watchable is what matters to the audience. I must say that I haven’t been watching many of the films about the First World War. And in Australia, the Gallipoli drama series on Channel 9 hasn’t been getting the audiences the programme merited. This extended trailer shows that it’s a really sensitive and moving piece of work – well worth 3 minutes of your time.
History, and the lessons of the past, are so crucial to understand today. I for one am really proud of the television that brings it to life for us.
Any comments, questions, responses, ideas – all really welcome
A couple of weeks ago at BBC Worldwide’s annual showcase in Liverpool that I attended for SBS, drama was to the fore. The big programme being promoted was Wolf Hall, the six-parter which became the biggest drama launch on BBC2 for years.
At Showcase, BBC Worldwide laid on a dinner in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. This is a dramatic setting in itself – the 5th biggest cathedral in the world, started in 1909 and only finished in 1978 but feeling hundreds of years old. Tables laid out for 500 guests, lit by candlelight – in honour of the candlelight by which much of the series is shot. Even the butter for the meal was presented in the form of lit candles. Peter Kosminsky, the writer, Claire Foy playing Anne Boleyn and Jonathan Pryce playing Cardinal Wolsey strode through backlighting from the back of the altar. As an entrance, it definitely had the wow factor. BBC Worldwide puts an amazing amount into promoting its big drama titles – they have built in repeat business. Mind you, there’s unlikely to be a Wolf Hall 2 as it’s based on a series of books by Hilary Mantel and they’ve now all been adapted into this series.
The other dramas in the BBC catalogue showed the range of British series. At the ‘real’ end was Cucumber & Banana, what Americans would probably call ‘Dramedies’, which have played on Channel 4 and which SBS launched this week around Mardi Gras. And from the same profilic production company Red Productions, Ordinary Lies, with Jason Manford & Max Beasley leading an ensemble cast in a used car showroom. Historical drama, beyond Wolf Hall, was also well represented: Da Vincis Demons, Musketeers, and the story of Botany Bay in Banished, written by Jimmy McGovern and commissioned by the new BBC channel in Australia BBC First.
This was how the BBC promoted all of its drama last autumn, looking back at a ‘lifetime of original British drama’ – especially for all you who can’t get enough of Benedict Cumberbatch. All of human life was there:
Channel 4 have also moved big time into the international drama market, with a head of international Simon Maxwell and a marquee drama Indian Summers
I’m based in Denmark a country which has built its reputation for content on its drama. The public broadcaster DR has focussed production resources on producing primetime drama like Borgen, The Killing, and The Legacy – to the detriment perhaps of original factual series for TV. Italy is also making a big push into crime series for the international market.
And as well as making it, people are talking about it too, so the genre now has its own raft of gatherings and conferences. Though in much of Europe, people don’t use the words drama or fiction or their equivalents – it’s just ‘series’. One at the end of January at the Institut Francais in London, called Totally Serialized brought together French and UK producers and writers. There’s an event open to the public at the beginning of July in Fontainebleau south of Paris called SeriesSeries, which is probably a French pun or reference to a retro pop song. And one of my very first blog posts here was about the Rome Fiction Festival in September last year – though I was there for the factual part of it.
So from a creative point of view, all very healthy. There’s a recognition amongst government and funders that producing quality European drama is necessary to cement local audiences and the European production industry itself. The Observatoire de l’Audiovisuel’s recent trilingual report on Fiction on European TV channels notes that the proportion of TV schedules that are fiction of all sorts has remained at about 50%. And of that, non-European content in most of the fiction subgenres is over 50% – and most of that is from the US.
For most countries, the statistics on the origin of programmes show that little has changed over time. The differences between 2006 and 2013 with regard to the proportion of European works in programme schedules are generally less than 2.5%. If you want to buy the report, here’s a link
To attract these productions, countries dangle tax breaks and film funds to entice them to film in a particular area, and use local crew and facilities. Because drama brings the big bucks for a filmmaking economy of course – for US drama, the numbers of people involved, the producers and stars fees, the promotional costs, make the average cost several million an ep. Most of the time the funding doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the story, though sometimes the money might be seen to get in the way. The new series of The Bridge, for example, will be more Danish, because of the creation of the Copenhagen Film Fund which has invested heavily and therefore demands much more of the filming to take place in Denmark. (the first 2 series were more of a 50/50 split between Denmark and Sweden, literally in terms of the first storyline). Coming to Nordic and other screens in late 2015.
I’ve never been involved in drama production, and would probably find the idea of working to a script each day, with every shot and sequence pre-planned and costed, very unusual. I still think that nothing beats the drama of real life, but then is it promotable?
Because in the end, the titles, the stars, the fantasy is what will draw people to the subscription-based TV models that we’re moving into – Netflix et al. Bingeing on 20 hours of whatever. Not authored singles, let alone documentary or entertainment. Perhaps as long as drama can continue to be supported by public channels and move between dramedy, factual historical drama, psychological thrillers and state of the nation pieces – there’s hope. Or am I being too optimistic?
Comments, questions, links, shares are – as always – all very welcome.
In other news this week…
Australia has been granted a wild card entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, being held in Vienna at the end of May. It’s been a long held aim of the SBS MD Michael Ebeid, as the channels been the official broadcaster for the past thirty years. For the past few years the lobbying has got more intense and the pleas have got louder and more desperate. Finally, a few days ago came this announcement by the co-presenter of the show for SBS Julia Zemiro (who’s also rockin’ the dirndl look in the pic above)
It brings in some of the biggest audiences to SBS each year, and having an Australian act in the finals in the Austrian capital will send that audience into overdrive. I guess the Aussies were just waiting for it to take place in a country with a name a bit like theirs.
Eurovision very much belongs on SBS now, since it was first broadcast in 1983. Electric Pictures made a doc shown on SBS called The Secret History of Eurovision in 2011, with Mark Atkin and Phil Craig as producers.
For most it’s a celebratory show, an excuse for dressing up in silly wigs and having a party. Last year, Australian songstress Jessica Mauboy was the interval act in the second semi-final – with every cultural stereotype present and correct on stage before she sang. She’d get my vote to be the entry this year. There’s also talk of Kylie, or Guy Sebastian to have a real chance of winning…but be careful what you wish for. The Guardian’s music critics came up with Nick Cave.
But there’s been a fair bit of debate in a slow news week (since Tony Abbott survived his leadership challenge). Coming so soon after the budget cuts to SBS and ABC, how much is it going to cost for Australia to take part? What if Australia actually wins and has to pay for the following year’s competition? (which would have to be held in Europe in any case). Is it making a mockery of the European identity of the show? Here’s one writer who’s not in favour…
The links between Australia and Europe are strong of course, and it’s probably right to see Eurovision as an affectionate way of linking some very far away places. We’re pretty Euro on SBS. We do food programmes in which chefs travel to their home countries. Quite a few country house shows. And a lot of mostly Brit history with British presenters like Neil Oliver. Crime series from Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France. Plus we see people in Lycra pedalling over Europe in the Tour de France, the Vuelta, and the Giro d’Italia. Next to all that Euro content, America is much less visible (though the commercial channels more than make up for it).
Plenty of broadcasting challenges await – Should we be less tongue-in-cheek about it now that we’re actually in the show? how will Australians vote, given that it’ll be taking place live at 6am East Coast time? (SBS will be broadcasting as every year with a time delay on Sunday evening). What type of act will best represent Australia today? And, again, do we really want to win?
I’m looking forward to seeing how our coverage looks and sounds this year. I’ll be watching from Copenhagen, and feeling just that bit more Aussie…
Still on my Transfer Deadline theme, yesterday the BBC had a couple of outside experts giving their views on the players who might be on the market.Fifa Interactive World Cup 2014 Grand Final competitor David Blytheway and Football Manager expert Alex Stewart provided insight and analysis of players involved in deals from a gamer’s perspective.Got me thinking about games and TV.
Football Manager is a video game which involves assessing and transferring players from the perspective of the gamer as manager. Very entertaining to read in the deadline day text these gamers’ perspectives on the ‘real’ footballers, using the stats that are part of the video game to back up their observations.
Then I watched on the Guardian site an extract from the documentary “Drone“, by Flimmer Film, which includes a storyline about about the training of gamers to become drone pilots in the US military.
I have to say that I’m not a gamer; maybe I just haven’t found the right one. But it’s clear that that’s how many peoples’ brains are wired and the way they want to interact with content. So I know I need to find out more.
Doc filmmakers in particular are being introduced to this theme in many industry conferences.
The long-established Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) changed its format this year to Net-Work-Play with plenty of game- and online-related content and speakers in the sessions. Brave call by Joost den Hartog to turbo-charge the conference this year to appeal a very different crowd.
Games for Change is an annual get together in April as part of the Tribeca Film Festival; in Malmo, Sweden the Nordic Game Conference tries to make links between the gaming and filmmaking communities. The aim is I think to apply principles of ‘gamification’ (rather than always actual games) to factual or fiction ideas – using the ‘mechanics’ of a game to change the way stories are told. On a simple level this could be making a factual story more of a process of first person discovery. But I’m sure there’s more to it than that.
Here’s Morgan Spurlock and Joseph Gordon-Levitt talking about Gamification on the collaborative art/tech show HitRecord on TV. Searching for the answer to what actually is a game, and how competition is compatible with art.
As the market for TV becomes ever more competitive, the audience fragments and public funding dwindles, you need ways to get the audience to find, love and share your content – games are surely part of the answer. I’d love to be able to find a game-TV hybrid that could work for mainstream audiences on SBS – let me know if you’ve got any ideas!
For me today is going to be a challenge to focus on work while keeping an eye on the info-fest that is Transfer Deadline Day. For those that aren’t into football, it’s one of the two days in the year (the other is the end of August) when the transfer window closes, and clubs are no longer allowed to sign players. The day is covered by the BBC and Sky on TV, text, radio, and probably carrier pigeon too. It’s known as the only business where people still use faxes to send contracts at the end of the window approaches, and no TDD is complete without a story of a last-minute paper jam which prevents a deal being done. Leaving shopping till the last day of the sales is something I can really relate to. I’m never through the doors first, unlike this lot…
The Football Transfer Window has been in place since 2002-3, which coincidentally is just before the acquisitions spree that started with new Terms of Trade being introduced for the UK production sector in 2004. This gave companies control of the righs in the ideas they created, and, therefore, made them valuable. Money poured in from VC and other investors in the UK, and from a cottage industry the production sector suddenly became a business worth billions. (Big thanks to Nick Ware who gave me the idea to connect these two themes for this blog even though he’s not into football!)
Britain’s status as the capital of production company mergers and acquisitions hasn’t changed. It seems that the main reason now to start an independent company in the UK is to be able to grow it fast and then sell it – it’s business, after all.
For Brits, most global revenues still come from America. At last week’s Realscreen summit, 70 UK producers were in attendance. PACT set up a British Pub in the lobby of the Washington hotel where it all happens. The UK trade association PACT also announced the setting up of a US organisation for UK companies and their US offshoots, – with offices in LA and New York to be set up this year.
PACT’s figures seem to show that the only full commissions for UK companies over the past two years were from the US – though this doesn’t include coproductions, as there have been plenty of those from elsewhere in the world.
Companies in the US have a struggle to hold onto the IP in the formats they create – the channels try and take as many rights as they can – but in the UK that IP is the foundation of their business. That doesn’t stop UK companies pitching, or investing in US companies – the size of the business there means that companies are still profitable even though the rights position isn’t nearly as good. Arrow Media’s John Smithson has a pithy column in Realscreen magazine and he returns to the theme a lot.
It does of course mean that the development focus for companies is on returnable formats, as this is what those investors want to see to get a revenue stream from the company. Like transferring a football player for an eye-watering sum, there’s no guarantee of success though; while ideas are still dependent on those capricious commissioners, there’ll always be a big element of uncertainty.
Now, how about a Transfer Window for production companies?