Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jana Bennett sees 'market failure' in comedy, children's and drama

From Broadcast:
BBC Vision director Jana Bennett has claimed the economic downturn has turned comedy and drama into “market failure” genres.

Speaking at the BBC Vision Forum for in-house and indie producers, Bennett said the crisis in commercial TV funding meant BBC needed to take extra responsibility in previously buoyant genres.

She said: “We used to think of religion, current affairs, and music and arts as the classic market failure genres – areas of output in which the BBC had a special responsibility. To those, we could now legitimately add children’s, comedy, specialist factual and drama. All these genres could be endangered in this tougher commercial world.”
Update: Bennett also said that BBC Children’s budget is set to increase by at least £25m over the next three years thanks to cost savings at the corporation.

Update (24.09.09): Here's the BBC Press release
Jana Bennett also confirmed that BBC Two's drama spend would increase by 50% over the next three years and that the channel would become the home for BBC Films, "to create a core of distinguished fiction on the channel".
And here's the full transcript of Jana Bennett's speech.


  1. Anonymous7:14 am

    Another way to read this: the BBC are terrified that a new government will pull the plug on their funding, so they're using the old argument that "if we don't do these programmes, nobody else will".

    Glad to see they're saving £25m. I hope no senior BBC execs had to get rid of their third homes in France for that.

  2. It's not "the economic downturn has turned comedy and drama into “market failure” genres." There are still audiences aplenty for Dr. Who, The Wire, The Office and all (though with a lot of time and format shifting, but that's all right.) The key factor is excellence; trusting creatives to get their vision onto screen without needless layers of interference (which usually comes from those without the greatest expertise or experience.)

    Don't get me wrong, I welcome the extra £25 m. How much is that apiece?

  3. Edel Brosnan writes - At the moment, there's a lot of truth in "if the BBC don't make these programmes, nobody will". And at least the BBC now commissions riskier work for BBC 3 and 4, which is exactly what a publicly funded broadcaster should do.

    And since I'm in Pollyanna mode this morning, let's not forget that Channel 4 has an extra £20 million for new drama commissions, and a few more slots as well, now that Big Brother is finally on its way to the great big repeats channel in the sky.

  4. You're right, Edel. There hasn't been so much money available for programme making for quite some time. For this relief, much thanks.

    But alas Big Brother won't get repeats. When will TV companies realise that reality telly might be cheap to make, but it doesn't provide the years of profitable repeats or overseas sales that comedy, drama and children shows do? It's no wonder that all the companies have hit the financial wall. The profits from all those repeats and overseas sales have always been used to fund the making of new programmes. Oops?

  5. Graham Lester George5:59 pm

    The BBC is needed more than ever now to raise broadcasting standards again. Perhaps now they won't feel pressured into competing with the lowest common denominator stuff made by ITV, Sky etc and will instead compete with the best drama output coming from the likes of HBO.

  6. Anonymous6:13 pm

    Well now... HBO, paid for by subscription and sales, has become the benchmark of great drama. Meanwhile the BBC, paid for by effectively a poll tax, has just a few dramatic templates that it tries to endlessly recycle. If the license fee were abolished entirely, the BBC would have to slim down. But it might slim down into something a lot better.

  7. Anonymous6:51 pm

    The question for the BBC in all departments is - what does it cost to provide a BBC pension? answer: about 40% of your output. Next question - obvious isn't it? the best film makers and writers in the UK are all freelance.

  8. To quote Gail Renard, and I agree with her.
    "The key factor is excellence; trusting creatives to get their vision onto screen without needless layers of interference (which usually comes from those without the greatest expertise or experience.)"
    Speaking as a 'Creative' (MA Screenwriting 2008), I can't even reach the pavement in front of the BBC to pitch anything as, "We are not commissioning anything, the downturn you know..." Not only that I couldn't even get an interview as a 'Runner'.
    I'm just 'a voice in the wilderness', my Stories and Series just a puff of wind in the maelstrom of BBC indifference and complacency.

  9. Anonymous3:56 pm

    Bad as that is, Ken, it's not the worst of it. Once you're off the pavement and into the building, you're going to enter a maze of bureaucracy and self-interest. Meetings will beget meetings, yea unto the end of time. You will wonder if camping in the lobby would make sense.

    And even if your proposal survives that (and if - big if - your name actually stays attached to it, ha ha) you're then going to hit the corporate committee-think level that tries to remove whatever is interesting and original, grind it down and turn it into a version of the latest big hit that's got them all in a tizzy.

    Just forget it is my advice. Get yourself on a plane to LA, mate.

  10. I have hope, Anon, or else I wouldn't still be writing or TV Chair of the Guild. But if you don't like a system, you've got to be proactive and improve it, which is what we're trying to do through the Guild. British telly was once the best in the world and can be again. Let's make it so!


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