Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540 - 560)

TUESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2005

Ms Susan Woodward, Ms Alice Morrison, Mr Andrew Critchley and Mr Mike Spencer

  Q540  Chairman: In your internal assessment, if you put up a project which was not going to wash its face for 25 years that would be quite a hard sell?

  Ms Woodward: I do not think I would even dare sell it into my bosses.

  Ms Morrison: Could I mention something about this because, taking it slightly differently, for us it is about sustainable production. It is not just about buildings and fixed assets. It really is about sustainable production. Again due to the opportunities that have arisen in the last two years we are looking at the independent sector growing by £20 million in this region over the next two years. That is an enormous growth and the reasons for that are increased sustainable production. The economic benefit has to be measured slightly more widely I think—and I am not an economist—but it seems to me common sense that if there is an increase of £20 million in what was a tiny struggling sector and that is sustainable, that is of great benefit.

  Chairman: Okay. Baroness Howe?

  Q541  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Well also presumably we will be hearing in rather more detail from the BBC whether they are beginning to change their view. Just looking at the collaboration between Granada and the BBC. 3sixtymedia, which we saw a bit of earlier today, is a fascinating concept. Were there any problems as it developed and are there any lessons for the future?

  Ms Woodward: The answer is yes to both of those questions.

  Q542  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Perhaps you would expand.

  Ms Woodward: It was and still is a unique initiative. To take a state-funded broadcaster and an aggressive, in the nicest sense of the word, commercial broadcaster and ask them to share facilities was an extraordinary step forward. It was in our mutual interests to do that because we wanted to keep a maximum amount of studio production and space in the North, so we had a common ground. Then you came up against obstacles, as you do with any business venture that shares equity agreed in the beginning at 90 per cent in favour of Granada and 10 per cent to the BBC, and perhaps that was something we should have looked at differently at that time. The BBC therefore did not have an enormous inducement to actually put product through that joint venture company. That is further compounded by the fact that the BBC still to date operates producer choice so their producers could opt to take their programmes to other production facilities and not necessarily put the business through the joint venture company, so we did not have the absolute guarantee of any business being brought to Manchester coming through that vehicle. I suppose the biggest cultural difference between ITV Granada and the BBC is in terms of how we speak, the language we use, the different emphasis we put on working practices. All of these things took a lot of time to iron out. Having ironed those out, it works pretty well. The staff have settled in and we all feel part of one interesting, opportunistic venture. The big question is what the BBC wants to do about joint ventures if the one in Manchester is successful and they move north.

  Q543  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: How were they ironed out? You explained the differences very effectively but what happened to make it work better?

  Ms Woodward: If I give you an example of something that can show case how the JV helped to underpin both of our businesses. We had a very famous drama writer from this part of the world who made extraordinary, award-winning and internationally renowned brands for ITV Granada and then his relationship with Granada changed and he associated with the BBC and, as a result of that, BBC Drama commissioned work from this particular writer. However, it was made in Manchester as part of 3sixtymedia and therefore ITV Granada forged a new relationship with that script writer and in fact that script writer is about to make yet another, hopefully, award-winning drama for ITV Granada. So we now manage the talent effectively for the team and we all share a common focus that we want to keep production in the North and we strive to achieve the same high quality level of output because we have pride in our output. The passage of time has allowed the cultures to cross-fertilise with each other.

  Q544  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Have you any other thoughts about this on how it affected all of you?

  Mr Spencer: Looking at it, I was at Granada when 3sixty began and it certainly was not a marriage made in heaven. As Sue points out, the BBC very effectively exerted their choice by not going to 3sixty. I think the personnel have changed and that is probably the key to it. The nature of Granada and Manchester has changed considerably and perhaps there are some new realities as well within this building and the BBC. So I think it is a change of personnel and just a changed environment of broadcasting in Manchester that has helped it become more effective.

  Q545  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Did you have any views on it?

  Ms Morrison: I guess to have a sustainable sector you need to have effective facilities and we have 3sixty. We also have Andy Sumners in post production and we have Web Lighting. 3sixty works and it drives things along and then you have the other purely private companies growing around it and they feed in and out.

  Ms Woodward: That additional supply chain and that comes from the benefit of being in a cluster.

  Ms Morrison: We have the top 10 in Britain post-production companies here and you need that. So you need everything moving in and out. I think Andrew, you are a client of 3sixty.

  Q546  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: A satisfied client?

  Mr Critchley: Completely satisfied. When we had used directors prior to that we had acceded to their request to go back to London for post-production, for whatever reason they wanted to do that, familiarity with the Soho-based post-production houses. When on occasion we have persuaded them to use the 3sixty post-production facilities they have always been completely happy with the product.

  Q547  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: But looking to the future, it is still 90/10 or 80/20?

  Ms Morrison: 90/10.

  Q548  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: The potential for conflict surely remains, does it not?

  Ms Woodward: I think it is right that the BBC has decided to opt out of owning their own resource base by 2007. I suppose the question will be there if they do not want to own a resource base and they want to still operate a joint venture or have a secondary third party venture, or whatever the BBC strategy is for providing production facilities, what their concept is if they do not want to own their own resource base is probably a question best put to the BBC than myself.

  Q549  Lord Peston: It seems to me you are entirely right in the view you take about the creative cluster but in fact you probably underestimate the dynamics of that, and that once a place becomes successful its propensity to become more successful will grow rather than fall and therefore the dynamics will mean there will be very few centres indeed. I understand that argument and I presume in answer to the Bishop when he got you started on the advantages what you were saying is this is already a creative cluster and it will get more so. I take it that was your main argument?

  Ms Woodward: It will get more so. The BBC's arrival here will be the rocket fuel to jettison it into its next stage at an enormously accelerated rate.

  Q550  Lord Peston: I have got two puzzles. My first puzzle goes back to you, Mike, on the commissioning. Strictly speaking, it does not matter where the commissioner is; what matters is where the talent is. You are arguing, without making any criticism of the BBC, the fact the commissioning is in London biases the system against non-London. That seems to me what you were saying. I do not think you are wrong, let me tell you. People used to ask me in my younger days why I was always on radio and television doing the economics commenting and people from Manchester University would say, "We are as good as you are," but I would say, "Yes, but I am a 10-minute taxi ride from Highgate to Broadcasting House and the White City, that is why it is me." It is nothing to do with anything else at all. I take it that you are taking, on a rather more sophisticated scale, the same view that if the commissioners are down there they are more likely not to choose you? That is really your argument?

  Mr Spencer: I think it is to do with how large you appear on their radar and I think part of that process is being in and out of the building every day or frequently in a week, bumping into people, knowing them socially. It is that kind of thing of which I do not feel envious but I think it is a problem for companies based outside London that they do not have that level of intimacy with the commissioners.

  Q551  Lord Peston: I agree with that but what puzzles me a bit wearing my economics hat is that really ought not to be the case. If you are good they ought to be seeking you. It is rather like your list of freelancers. You have got this list and if they are on the list and they are good then, they are the ones who ought to be employed. But you are saying that is not the way the world works?

  Mr Spencer: There are clearly successful production companies based outside London much larger than mine so it is not a complete impediment but there is nevertheless a feeling of "out of sight is out of mind".

  Q552  Lord Peston: I just wanted you to get that on the record. Could I also ask, and I think this may be more to do with drama than to do with documentaries, but you did not really satisfy me on the question of the downside to Manchester when you were answering the Bishop. Do you find that there are people that you would want to have working for you and when you say it is Manchester, they say, "I am not coming up here to make a play?" Do you have that kind of experience?

  Mr Critchley: We have that but rarely.

  Q553  Lord Peston: So it is rare?

  Mr Critchley: That is bound to happen, is it not? You want a particular piece of talent and they for whatever reason—it could be their own personal circumstances just at that time—may not want to move. They might not want to move from Cardiff to London, they might not want to move from London to Brighton. We have on occasion suffered from that. That is just one of the vagaries of the business. The thing about commissioning though is it should not matter where the commissioners are from but inevitably it does. It is human nature to stick with what you know to an extent.

  Lord Peston: I agree. I just wanted to make sure you said that so that we had it for the record.

  Q554  Lord Maxton: One thing that I am not quite clear about is the difference, if you like, between the programmes you make for the national network and those you make for your own regional outputs. Do both the independents make programmes for non-network or is it entirely you who does the non-network programmes?

  Ms Woodward: A good question again because it is always useful to outline what it is the television ecology sets out to do. Under the licences granted to all of ITV across England and Wales there are two types of programmes. There are those made in the region but for broadcast across the whole of the UK and there are those programmes made in the region but only broadcast within that region. They are actually stipulated by Ofcom's licence in terms of regional hours. Every member of the ITV family has to produce a certain amount of hours and those hours themselves are split into genres, so in North West we have to produce just for the North West itself five and a half hours of news a week, so many hours of current affairs a week, and so many hours of weather reports. They are very prescriptive and laid down by our licence. But they are only made within the region just to be seen by the people in the North West. As part of that pot of money, we also take the view that we put some of that product out to the independent sector like to Mike's company MMA to make programmes for ITV Granada to be seen only in the North West region whereas Mike will also be commissioned by ITV and indeed the BBC, as with Andrew, to make programmes for the whole of the UK, in fact in Andrew's case even internationally. So there are regional programmes made just for the region and regional production which has UK-wide distribution but made from one part of the country.

  Q555  Lord Maxton: Can I perhaps link this a little bit then to something we were talking about last week which is sport and of course that is one of the things that is coming up from the BBC. Do you show at regional level sport and, if so, what sport?

  Ms Woodward: We will probably cover most of our sports in the news in the five and a half hours of peak television.

  Q556  Lord Maxton: No, I meant actual outside broadcasts of sporting occasions.

  Ms Woodward: ITV Granada does not have a network sports department. Our sports network department is centred in London where most of the sports departments seem to be. I suppose that is because that is where most of the sporting events are. Wimbledon is at Wimbledon, Henley is at Henley, rugby is at Twickenham, such is the nature of the beast, so we do not have a sports network department—

  Q557  Lord Maxton: With all due respect, I will take rugby because that was my sport, rugby is not at Twickenham. There are five games a year at Twickenham. Every Saturday of the year there are rugby matches going on—Sale, I agree they are with Sky—in the region.

  Ms Woodward: I am glad you mentioned rugby—

  Q558  Lord Maxton: You are not showing them.

  Ms Woodward: There is a programme that ITV did make, a late night rugby show called Rugby Raw.

  Q559  Lord Maxton: That is one better than BBC Scotland.

  Ms Woodward: No, the BBC now make it, we do not make it, we used to make a similar type of programme. Because of the nature of the way the hours are carved up across the whole of the UK, there are regional programmes made just for that region and we tend to put rugby within the regional news content, but for the big sporting events, the network sports events, the departments that do football, rugby, tennis are national events, even though they may be regionally based. A Man United game is obviously important to Manchester but it is equally important to the rest of the nation.

  Q560  Chairman: I think we have more or less run out of time. Are there any more questions that anyone has? No, okay. I would like to thank you very, very much indeed for giving the evidence, which has been fascinating. I am enormously sorry my imaginative idea for documentary programming has been so rudely rejected by Mr Spencer.

  Mr Spencer: What I will do is I will pitch it and send you the e-mail trail back and you are on 10 per cent if it is commissioned!

  Chairman: There we are. Seriously, thank you very much indeed, and perhaps if we have got any other questions we can come back to you.



 
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