The 2010 spending review cutting into the future of our industry


Our industry can survive the government’s cuts provided we stand-up and speak for ourselves, says Peter Savage.
In October the UK government announced the most comprehensive spending cuts in over 50 years. With the Department for Culture, Media and Sport facing cuts of more than £300m and the BBC’s licence fee frozen for six years, the forecast is gloomy to say the least. But just how will the cuts affect you and me, the ‘men on the street’ in the television world?
Well, I don’t think they will. Firstly, UK film tax relief is still in place, a vital industry support, which means that UK film production companies can claim cash rebate of up to 25 percent on productions under £20m. Secondly, the UK television and film industry has been hit by many cuts over the past few decades, and yet it remains a creative force for new content in Europe.
That said, given the government’s assertions that we must maintain a strong and independent BBC, it seems at odds that so much of its income is dependent on the taxpayer. Worse still, the BBC must now shoulder the cost of S4C, reputed to be the most costly television service per head in Europe.
It is time for the government to accept that, if it wants the BBC to remain strong and independent, and it wants television to flourish in this country, it must adopt the French protectionist approach to our national broadcast treasures. There are three ways that I believe this can be achieved:
Support creative British programming
We have four independently-funded channels that raise revenue through advertising: ITV, Sky, Channel 4 and Five. If we cannot allow the BBC to seek advertising revenue, we need to ensure that taxpayers money is spent nurturing the best in UK television. Rather than entering into bidding wars with commercial channels for high profile sporting events, such as the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, the BBC should bid for less well supported events, as it did this year with the Commonwealth Games. This might also alleviate some of the price-pressure in sports such as football, where money from sporting rights has fuelled extravagant wage demands from some professionals.
Nurture new talent rather than accept the excessive wage demands of established presenters
Naturally, as presenters become successful and sought-after, they may decide to move to commercial channels and reap the greater financial rewards available. But let’s not undervalue the prestige of working for an international brand like the BBC. Vacancies created by these presenters provide much-needed opportunities for new up-and-coming talent. We need to revive the culture of loyalty towards the BBC brand, that those of us over the age of 45 will remember from the days of black and white television. So long as we ensure that the quality of content aired is high, I believe the public will not care whether it is presented by a Childs or a Ross.
Use resources prudently to support a greater breadth of British business – Ask anyone in TV and they will acknowledge that, unless you are one of a chosen few, the chance of getting a BBC commission at the moment is almost non-existent. It is a tragedy that the BBC, which is so well positioned to encourage creativity in the UK media and broadcast industry, does not do more to support a greater breadth of British business. The BBC should be a hot-house of home-grown talent, that concentrates on channelling resources to developing British creativity, and leaves the rights to expensive US series to commercial channels.
If these three points were followed, I believe more money from the UK television sector would reach the UK post production industry, which has really suffered through the economic downturn. Television, especially post production, is a feast or famine world, now more than ever the BBC must use its resources prudently and in a balanced fashion to bolster British businesses. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Several of the industry players that I have spoken to recently believe that a degree of certainty has returned to the market, bringing with it better prospects than they’ve had for several years.
Ultimately, the government spending cuts should not have too severe an impact on our industry - the real differences will come from within the industry itself. It is our responsibility to educate the government on how to manage funding in order to build a thriving UK television industry and ensure that the BBC is encouraged to be a force for growth and creativity in the UK. We must also empower UK lobbies, such as the UK Screen Association, formally UK Post to ensure that we present a united front.
If you would like to read other articles in this series, visit our website: www.azule.co.uk. If you would like advice on buying or leasing equipment, or on management and business issues, do email me on peter.savage@azule.co.uk and/or write to the TV Bay editor.

Tags: finance | spending | finance | cuts | iss047 | azule | N/A
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