Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1780
WEDNESDAY 11 JANUARY 2006
Q1780 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
You do not think they are over-estimating the cost?
Lord Puttnam: No. The BBC are pretty good at
costing what they do, they do overspend but they normally have
some contingency for that.
Q1781 Lord Maxton:
Do you think the BBC should be involved in the digital switchover?
Lord Puttnam: I do. It would be illogical for
the BBC not to work with government in enhancing, encouraging
and driving forward digital switchover. They know more about it.
They are well resourced. They have the relationship with government
and in a sense they have the public service remit to ensure that
digital is made available to the poorest, least advantaged and
geographically most challenged.
Q1782 Lord Maxton:
I can see that but why should the licence fee payer finance it?
Why should not the rest of us pay for it?
Lord Puttnam: That is a perfectly good question.
In a sense, it is the reverse question of why the BBC should pay
a spectrum charge. You are right. It does encourage cynicism on
the part of the licence fee payer who feels, "Is this the
very first phase of top slicing? Is this first bit of top slicing
of the licence fee to pay for other things?" If it is, does
it set the wrong precedent? It is a very correct question. On
balance, if you are asking me should the BBC be engaged with the
government in driving this forward, yes. Should it be paid for
by the licence fee? I am not sure about that.
Q1783 Lord Maxton:
Personally, I have some reservations about the technology to be
used. It may be that by 2012 the BBC will be a producer of programmes
rather than a broadcaster and that we should be looking at other
technologies to ensure that everybody has digital services rather
than just digital television. Would you agree?
Lord Puttnam: We may find it quite difficult
to define what a broadcaster is by 2012. If by "broadcaster"
we still include the key archivist, the organisation that makes
material available, sometimes quite unusual material, if that
still is a broadcaster, the BBC will retain that role. There is
something very interesting happening in video and in publishing.
It is not a diversion; it is fascinating. The average large book
store carries 130,000 titles and sells about ten per cent of them
on a regular basis; yet more than half of Amazon.com's book sales
come from outside of its top 130,000 titles. What this indicates
is that there is a market out there for material that is not available
on the shelves but which people would like access to. I hope I
am not complicating your question, I believe the bookshop analogy
will hold up. Who will be the organisationI think it will
be a publisher/broadcasterwho will make available all of
its products on demand? We can argue what demand might mean. I
would probably still end up calling them a broadcaster. The BBC's
resources increasingly will be available to all of us all of the
time. I have an I-Pod Nano slightly smaller than this downstairs.
I checked before coming up. I have 1,112 tracks on it. That is
almost inconceivable when I look back 20 years to my first Walkman.
I think television will move in exactly the same direction. That
type of access will be available to us well within 20 years. I
think 2012 is about right. But that would still be a broadcaster.
I will still be relying on the BBC to call up my material.
Q1784 Lord Maxton:
I know it is technical but once you move on to mobile telephones,
using the internet and broadband, you are talking about narrowcasting,
not broadcasting, technically. Broadcasting implies something
that is put out that everybody can watch if they turn on their
television at that particular point in time. Narrowcasting implies
that you watch it when you want to watch it and where you want
to watch it. That is what you are describing in the second part
of that answer.
Lord Puttnam: Yes. That is where we will end
up. There will be elements of broadcasting but essentially the
market for narrowcasting will grow exponentially, whereas the
market for broadcasting may well drop.
Q1785 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Going back to the use of the licence fee for analogue switch-off,
we have been hearing from quite a lot of people that the government
is likely to get a considerable amount of money from the sale
of spectrum. Should it not be using that money to pay for the
analogue switch-off, rather than expecting the licence fee payer
Lord Puttnam: Yes. I think that is a more appropriate
source of funding.
Your position is that the BBC should be a pivotal force, if you
like, as far as switchover is concerned but the finance should
come externally, not through the licence fee?
Lord Puttnam: Yes. I am concerned about using
the BBC internal resources to fund things which are essentially
not related specifically to the output of the BBC because I think
we are there setting a hare running and sooner or later someone
is going to suggest more that is similar and we will be seriously
into the top slicing argument, which is a completely different
Q1787 Bishop of Manchester:
One of the things we have talked about quite a lot in this Committee
is the proposal that has been made about Manchester. There are
three areas I would be very grateful to you for sharing your views
on. The first is that the costs of the move have seemed quite
enormous. As time has progressed, the projected costs seem to
have come down a little. Nevertheless, that is an area of concern.
The second point you made earlier about the local community is
how far it is realistic for the BBC to be saying that the move
to a shared hub in Manchester would be of enormous benefit to
the local community. Thirdly, in the light of the points you have
made about the BBC's very poor reputation in sharingthat
is a point that has been made by other people as wellwhat
chances do you think the proposal has for success anyway as a
concept of sharing between the BBC, ITV and the independents?
Lord Puttnam: My experience of moving centres
of activity is that it is, to all intents and purposes, illusory
unless you also move the decision making process and the financial
clout that goes with it. Why do I say that? When I went into the
film industry in the late 1960s, people talked about Hollywood.
No decision was made in Hollywood. All the decisions in the film
industry were made in New York. It was not until the mid-1970s
when, for their own reasons, partly property based, the studios
moved to the west coast and the decision making processes began
to take place in Hollywood. The decision to move sport to Manchester
is a good and very positive one. It is the sort of shift I would
like to see take place rather more generally in this country.
I will not be totally convinced until I know that the head of
sport is living there, that the decisions are being made round
a table in Manchester and that the resources that fund those decisions
are also available in a bank in Manchester. I do not like token
regionalism. I think it is bad for the regions and for everyone
involved. I am very much in favour of moving the non-metropolitan
aspect, particularly of the BBC, out. I work a lot in the north
east and I would like to see much more take place in the north
east, but the north east will only have the confidence to perform
as I believe it could once the decisions the resources and the
mistakes can all be made there. That is another very important
point. Regions must step up, have the ability to make decisions,
face their mistakes and solve them. I am not sure nationally we
have come to that point.
Q1788 Bishop of Manchester:
It has certainly been the experience in the religion and ethics
department which moved to Manchester much earlier that they felt
very distanced from where decisions are made. It would be very
unhelpful if that kind of experience were to be repeated in the
sports area. I think there is a view among some people that when
the move is made to the hub, if it does happen, departments like
religion and ethics will disappear or be changed. Could you share
with us your views about the kind of things that you see happening
in this proposed hub? How would it work between the BBC, ITV and
Lord Puttnam: I think it could work in niche
areas but not without enormous difficulty. Can I go back to the
period when I was at Anglia? I was chairman of a wonderful subsidiary
called Survival. We made wildlife films. It was a very
successful small company. Because so much of Survival related
to footage we had commissioned, we used to own our archives which
was quite unusual. I spent a lot of time dealing with BBC Bristol
to try to create a national wildlife archive. It seemed to me
to be completely sensiblethere were only three players,
the BBC, a small organisation owned by HTV in those days, and
ourselvesto pull that together as a comprehensive archive
seemed to make the greatest sensebut it proved absolutely
impossible. Everyone had their own reasons why this had to be
here and you could not possibly move that to there. You were led
to understand that if we had got rid of this or that warehouse
in Swindon the entire nation would collapse. I became pretty cynical
about the excuses for putting things together. It would be a first
in broadcasting to get independents and the major players to work
together harmoniously to an improved end product. It might save
costs along the way but I do not believe the end product would
be enhanced or improved.
That depends on the BBC.
Lord Puttnam: Entirely.
Is it a two way thing? Is it just that the BBC are bad partners?
Lord Puttnam: I am afraid so. I can only repeat
that, in my experience, they do not know how to do it. It is not
part of their culture. Lord Kalms will have his own experiences.
There are businessmen who cannot be partners. It is not that they
do not want to be; they just do not know how to be a partner.
They know how to use someone else's money in a joint venture but
they do not know how to be a partner.
Q1791 Bishop of Manchester:
If this is going to cost as much as people are saying and you
are telling us that you do not think it is going to work, ought
not the plug to be pulled on the idea?
Lord Puttnam: I would be sorry if that happened
because there are people who are very keen to move sport to Manchester.
I think there is enough impetusthere certainly was under
Greg Dyketo do it properly, to re-locate it there, put
the management and resources there and make the decisions there.
Whether there has been some backsliding since Greg went I do not
know but it would be a pity if the idea was allowed to atrophy.
Q1792 Bishop of Manchester:
It would be a good idea?
Lord Puttnam: Yes.
There are two issues, are there not? There is the issue of putting
sport and other things there and there is the issue of the shared
production at the hub. The two perhaps are not the same.
Lord Puttnam: It will only work if the BBC are
prepared to relinquish a fair amount of control and I suppose
what I am saying is I think they are going to find that agony.
Q1794 Bishop of Manchester:
Interestingly, Charles Allen is very enthusiastic about the idea.
Lord Puttnam: It is a win win for Charles Allen.
It is hard to convince the BBC it is a win win.
Why is it a win win for Charles Allen?
Lord Puttnam: Because he lowers his costs. I
do not think he feels all that proprietorial about the decision
making issues and again it is a different culture. Charles Allen
is a deal maker. He knows how to make a deal and he knows how
to walk away from the details having made it.
Q1796 Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve:
As you know, in our first report we suggested that Ofcom should
have comparable powers for content regulation to the BBC and other
PS broadcasters. Would you agree with that recommendation? Do
you think that would add a sensible form of regulation to the
BBC or do you think it would be a little different?
Lord Puttnam: Ironically, in view of what I
have been saying, I am not a supporter of that. There are two
reasons. The core suggestions the BBC are making along the lines
of the Michael Grade Trust concept are worth a go. I am not sure
it will work but I certainly think it is worth a run. Conversely,
Ofcom is a very young organisation with an enormously broad remit.
There is a lot of work to do and I frankly think it could do without
the additional responsibility of the BBC for the time being. I
am on record as saying that I think there is a strong argument
for a mid-term review. I would not blame the BBC if eyes went
to heaven at the idea of a mid-term review. I would rather see
something more. I would like to see the trust itself commit to
commissioning some form of peer review of those areas in which
the public value test is involved. I have a shortlist: certainly
its commitment to training and training for the entire industry.
I am not comfortable with the idea that the BBC decides itself
how well it is fulfilling its commitment to the rest of the industry.
I would like to see that peer reviewed and I would like to see
that peer review published. In the area of curricular support,
there is no reason at all why the Trust should not have a rolling
contract with the Institution of Education to appraise the BBC's
performance in this area of educational output, comment on it
and publish their appraisal. Diversity would be another one. Parliamentary
coverage might be another. These are key areas of public value
that the BBC is responsible for and where it cannot honestly,
without blushing, make the argument that it could be the judge
and jury of how successfully these are being carried out.
Q1797 Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve:
This is to take the notion of content regulation very much further
than the Ofcom definition of content regulation which was extremely
minimal and perhaps even so a burden too far extended to the BBC.
Your notion is a diversity of forms of peer review, not just the
National Audit Office and Ofcom?
Lord Puttnam: Yes. I am an enormous fan of expert
peer review. Training is a very good example because there are
people who really do understand where this industry is going,
what the needs of 2012 are likely to be and whether there is going
to be a sufficiency of this or that type of training. I am not
prepared to trust the Corporation with this enormous responsibility,
with no one commenting annually as to whether it is meeting its
targets because they are in themselves shifting targets. We are
talking about 2012 and maybe 2020 and all of a sudden we could
find ourselves with a really serious skills deficit. These things
have to be monitored, analysed and commented on and that cannot
be done by the Trust. It can be commissioned and published by
the Trust but it has to be carried out by someone who really knows
Q1798 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
Quite apart from suggesting that Ofcom should take over the review
of content, one of the comments you made was that the whole of
the Content Board might need a little reappraisal. I wonder if
you have any views on how you see the workings of the Content
Lord Puttnam: We fought jolly hard to get it
and to give it some teeth. With the change over in Chair, this
would probably be a good moment to appraise the performance and
work out whether it is doing the job. It is a little large. I
am not a great fan of rather crude, regional representation. For
me it is rather like a football team. Yes, it maybe a good idea
to have a Chinese fullback but it is also a good idea if he is
a good fullback. I would really like to think that everyone on
the board is appraised for their skill set as well as their representational
value. My concern is that on the one occasion when the Content
Board in its area if responsibility advised the main board that
it was making a mistake it was ignored. That was over the removal
of the totality of the ITV PSB obligations. That is a pity. Whilst
I gather it was done pleasantly at the time, it would be quite
nice to see the two conflicting arguments put side by side, to
be assessed possibly by yourselves. There has been an important
development which is that the Content Board's recommendations
appear in the main board minutes. That is a very important and
could be a significant development. That is one to applaud but
it would be a great pity if the Content Board somehow gets reduced
to being a mere advisory attachment to the main board.
Q1799 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
One of the hopes that we had when we were putting forward this
idea of a strengthened Content Board was that somehow the Content
Board would be more accountable and more open to licence fee payers,
which is the group who clearly feel very strongly about issues
of content. Can you see any way in which that could be done?
Lord Puttnam: You and I have met the Consumer
Panel and I think we were both rather impressed by the seriousness
with which they are taking their job. The key here is the relationship
between the Consumer Panel and the Content Board. It is a fairly
clumsy structure. No one invented it; no one really wanted it;
it was something of a lash up. There is no question about that.
But so long as there is a decent relationship between the Consumer
Panel and the Content Board, as long as the Content Board is taken
seriously, as long as the views of the Content Board become public
through the publication of the minutes, that is probably in the
short term as good as we are going to get.