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BBC Productions: will it be Arqiva mark two in 2017?

BBC Director General Tony Hall has finally made his mark on the future of the BBC. If Greg Dyke launched Freeview, Mark Thompson takes credit for the iPlayer, how will the Tony Hall plan fare for Auntie?

Are we looking at the first MD of BBC Productions plc?   Photograph: BBC
Are we looking at the first MD of BBC Productions plc? Photograph: BBC
published on UK Free TV

The much covered announcement [1] was to say that in the future, the BBC would stop using a virtual market system to provide competition between in-house programme makers and those outside.

This would be implemented mainly for TV first, and would be considered soon for radio and online. Newsgathering was excluded from the proposals.

There has already been much comment written about the joy of the independent sector and a few rather moot (and silly) comments from Channel 4.

So, I will look at the most obvious parallel to this for the broadcaster known as Auntie.

Back on 28th February 1997, BBC Transmission became Castle Transmission International (CTI) as a result of privatisation. This raised £244 million "to help fund its plans for the digital age" [3]. This is £388m at 2014 prices.

The assets then passed to National Grid plc in 2004 for £1.1 billion (£1.47bn 2014), and were bought by Arqiva on 3 April 2007 for £2.5billion (after inflation £3.4billion). [4]

So, the big question for Tony Hall has to be: how much is BBC Productions to be sold off for in 2017?

Because you can not help noticing that the BBC now spends £222m a year on distribution. Which is ironic, because that is, in cash terms, what it got from privatizing BBC Transmission back in 1997.

The joy of the TV and radio production industry suggests that the upcoming sale of BBC Productions to market will result in a freeze of the TV Licence in the short term, and the long-term transfer of value away from the BBC.

A cynical person might also wish to look at the immediate loss of "a billion pounds" when Royal Mail plc was created. [5]

BBC producers may make TV shows for rival broadcasters | Media | The Guardian
BBC could start making shows for foreign and UK broadcast rivals as part of Director-General competitive revolution - TV & Radio - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent
RadioToday | Radio Indies respond to Tony Hall speech
A seismic change for British TV | News | Broadcast
Lord Burns sounds note of caution over BBC plans | News | Broadcast
Hall: BBC must compete or compare to survive
The industry reacts: TV execs on BBC quota plans | News | Broadcast
Tony Hall: speech in full | News | Broadcast
BBC TV production plans welcomed by indie trade body as historic | Media |
Channel 4 chair fears for indies over BBC production plans | Media |
BBCs TV production shakeup could extend to news, radio and online | Media |
Tony Halls BBC compete or compare speech - full text | Media |
BBC production plans an historic moment
BBC radio must follow TV lead | News | Broadcast
[2] Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
[3] Timeline of the BBC - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[4] Historic inflation calculator: how the value of money has changed since 1900 | This is Money
[5] Taxpayers left to count the £1bn cost of Royal Mail privatisation - Yorkshire Post

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Friday, 11 July 2014

9:51 PM

I think the first thought that comes to mind is 'why'?

The BBC does make programmes for other broadcasters abroad, and plenty of other companies make programmes for it. However, is there any actual need for the BBC to make 'all of the BBC's output open to competitive tender from commercial companies'? I can understand that many independents would like to make more programmes for the BBC, but would they do it better or cheaper? And why does everything have to go out for tender? This sounds like an attempt to answer ideological questions about the role of the BBC, rather than practical ones which benefit viewers.

The Independent says 'Lord Hall is anxious that the BBC is seen as a modern media organisation that is not afraid of subjecting its creative output to the open market and is able to create further revenue streams beyond the licence fee. Proper competition and entrepreneurialism requires a level playing-field. We should have regulation in the TV supply market only where it's needed so that we can let creativity and innovation flourish,

Frankly, thats blather. A translation would be that various governments, special interests and free-market thinktanks have moved the Overton Window to the point where the BBC is seen as Stalinist by certain parts of the political scene. We will head that off (and the chance of being privatised and reduced to British PBS by Lord Coe) by sacrificing our production arm in the name of the free market. Will we get screwed over - probably. But we hope to buy off Murdoch & Co for a bit, and set ourselves up so when they kill the licence fee we will have some cash coming in.

Its all rather desperate, and rather sad. Someone on the Guardian website commented the other day something along the lines of ' Labour would rather please people who will never vote for it, than support those who will'. The BBC is so desperate to appear 'with it' that they will try anything to please people who actually dogmatically disapprove of their very existence.

Now if the BBC wanted to pitch for other work, then as an independent producer, I'd be worried. They have a track record of good programming, and have a cadre of skilled and talented people able to attract other talented people. However, almost certainly they will be prevented from using licence fee monies as capital, and ham strung every step of the way.

Instead, if BBC Production does survive, it will be assaulted at every turn by the sort of low ball bidding we've seen from every other public service opened to private operators. Shine, etc will offer very attractive deals, until, as Brianist points out, BBC Production is spun off, and then the BBC will have to buy from a much concentrated set of suppliers.

It wasn't the Royal Mail I first thought of (although as an example of selling off an asset cheaply, its a good one). I though of the outsourcing of the Tube upgrades, the outsourcing out of hours GP care in Corwall, the disaster of the security contract for the Olympics, the cost and disruption of the outsourcing of NHS services, the failure of the private operators of the East Coast line, the need to bail out the nuclear industry, the failure of the privisation of NATS, the scandal of A4E and of course Atos, private prisons and the tagging of prisoners, school and nursing home inspections, etc. This is only a partial list, but a flavour of what just one comapny has done is featured here : Serco: the company that is running Britain | Business | The Guardian

This is a stupid, pointless and amazingly gutless idea. Tony Hall seemed to talk the talk when it came to the BBC - public broadcasting is good, and is a good was his cry. But it seems that he would rather buy off an enemy that cannot be bought, only fought. The one good thing is that the changes needed are so big that the 2015 election might derail them, and that many outside the BBC might actually think about what these changes might mean.

They could start with the idea that considering the number of TV production crew that have been trained by the BBC in one way or another, what will happen when there really is no more BBC production? Oh.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Sunday, 13 July 2014
Ian M
11:04 AM

To MIKE B 11jul14

Well put. Totally agree.

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Ian M's 2 posts GB flag

12:03 PM

MikeB / Ian M: I, for one, would certainly like to second the entire content of that said!!

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jb38's 7,179 posts GB flag

3:18 PM

MikeB: I couldn't disagree more.

The BBC most certainly is extreme leftist, green and out of touch. It has made and commissioned much good work but it is over reaching itself. There is no reason why much more should not be put out to tender (though, from experience I am aware that no-one at a government institution is capable of proper contract negotiation and management).

The BBC's recent mind boggling directive to program makers that no discussion on man made global warming must involve a person (or persons) who dissents from the (non existent and scientifically baseless) consensus in flagrant breach of its charter typifies how far out of control this socialist bureaucracy has gone.

I'd privatise the lot.

Btw, the Mail privatisation wasn't necessarily bad or some kind of cheap deal: nobody can gainsay the market and the market deemed the shares a better buy than expected. Nothing wrong with that - unless you're a capitalist hating socialist.

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RichardB's 85 posts GB flag

7:07 PM

RichardB: 'The BBC most certainly is extreme leftist, green and out of touch....socialist bureaucracy' - please dont hold back, say what you really think! Personally, although the BBC is not perfect (as I'll prove in a minute), it tends to work pretty well overall. I simply cannot see the point of putting off its production arm in order to please an ideological situation, not a practical one. Management guru's might think it fashionable to outsource everything, but in the real world much of this outsourcing is being reversed, since it has led to all sorts of problems. If you want something done properly, do it yourself. I do totally agree with you about the public sector not being able to negotiate a decent contract. I often visualise the private and public sector as a couple, walking arm in arm. The private sector is wearing a T-shirt which says 'I'm with stupid'. The public sector's T-shirt reads 'Yes, I am stupid, but I'm in love..' Climate change discussion is not what this website is about, but when considering the treatment the BBC gives of the subject, I would point out that every single scientific academy on the planet, plus those well known treehuggers the Pentagon and the CIA think climate change/global warming is real and a threat. If you dont believe them , try the people who ultimately insure you, such as Munich and Swiss Re Managing climate and natural disaster risk | Swiss Re - Leading Global Reinsurer - Since evidence of climate change has been well established for the past 30 years, you'd think the BBC would be relaxed and familiar in dealing with it, but this is not so. On the contrary, it is incrediably reactive, and basically only covers important reports, etc. This will normally invovle a very cautious report by David Shukman, and often a 'discussion' in the Today studio. I admit that I have complained to the BBC about such debates in the past (I got interviewed about Lawsons appearence by 'Feedback', during which I seemed to talk incrediably, incrediably, slowwwly), so I'm not unbiased. But the BBC has been repeatedly warned by senior scientific figures that their attempt at 'balance' was totally misleading, since they were trying to put two sides to a story, when in reality 97% of published climate scientists agree that climate change is real. John Oliver illustrated this false balance perfectly in his US TV show a little while back - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Climate Change Debate (HBO) - YouTube , which rightly went viral. Yet the BBC still continues to have debates between hugely eminent scientists and people who have no scientific background or expertise. Lawson was possibly on Today because their researchers tried to find a scientist to argue against the conclusions of the latest IPCC report. They couldn't find anyone (which should have been a sign), so they got him. Would you expect a discussion with a top doctor about the latest advances in brain surgery to stop dangerous fits to be balanced by an ex politician who is convinced that such fits are caused by demonic possession? Even worse, their interviewers dont have a clue about the science (they could do worse than quickly look at the excellent, and ask daft questions. The male presenters of Today are all pretty bad at this. Hopefully, BBC News will actually start reporting what scientists are saying, rather than treating it as a philosophical discussion point. As for the RM privatisation, this is a business with the lions share of parcel deliveries in the UK (a growing market), a long established infrastructure, and a large property portfolio, often in city centres and close to key transport links. Sounds like a valuable asset to me. I would argue that their was no need to privatise in the first place, but there tends to be a pattern of state assets (which we often rely on) sold off cheaply, only to pay vastly more later with far less control. I would start with the former BR rolling stock being sold off during rail privatisation (ROSCO's), and the profits that have accrued since http://www.official-docum…pdf. This a decent overview of rail privatisation here: Rail privatisation: legalised larceny | Aditya Chakrabortty | Comment is free | The Guardian I like capitalism, but I dont like being ripped off.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag

9:46 PM


Don't get me started on the 'science' of Global Warming' or as they now call it 'Climate Change'.

Fact is that the Earth's climate has always been changing. That's why the Roman Army grew grapes at Housteads Fort in Northumberland and there is archealogical evidence of making wine with those grapes. That is not possible now despite AGW but was 2000 years ago so it was definitely warmer then than now.

Science is a matter of open debate, discussion and exchange of ideas. Preventing that, as the BBC do, is not to enhance the scientific debate but to pander to the political bias.

The whole concept of AGW came about in the latter sixties because a well known scientist could not get research funding. So he decided to scare the fund holders, the politicians, and they got so worried they gave him the money - despite the general opinion at the time being that we were fast approaching a mini Ice Age! That is well documented.

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag

10:54 PM

MikeP: I would suggest you have a look at, since it discusses several of your points. To make things easy, they are no.88, possibly 66, 1(?) and 14. The general theory of climate change/global warming (the terms are largely interchangable) has been around since the time of Arrhenius in 1896, building on Tyndall's work in the 1860's investigated the absorption of infrared radiation in different gases, such as CO2. Callender argued that data showed a correlation between CO2 and tempreture increases in 1938. Edward Teller expressed the possibility of CO2 emissions leading to the melting of the icecaps in 1957. Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald came up with the Manabe-Wetherald one-dimensional radiative-convective model in 1967, which calculated the forcing effect of a doubling of CO2 using the then latest data and computers. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an adviser to Nixon, wrote a memo in Sept 1969 to the president, warning of climate change and its effects. Roman grapes - try http://www.realclimate.or…ain/ , although the argument is really covered by SkepticalSciences very first point. The BBC's job is to reflect the scientific evidence, and not pander to poltical bias, which is why they should report what the scientific community is actually saying. What they say is very clear, as you can see on the website of the Royal Society.

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Monday, 14 July 2014
Mark Harriman
9:28 AM

The process of transferring items from one financial account to another is called virement. Recent "Privatisations" take this to a new level and actually parts with the assets, the family silver so to speak , without the possibility of recovery in the future. 'Sale-and-leaseback,' allows use of an asset when the vendor leases it back for the long-term; therefore.Such transactions usually involve fixed assets like real estate,or other durable and capital assets; trains,boats and planes.and trains. Leaseback arrangements are usually bring financing, accounting or taxation benefits. Where an entity is sold contract it can be passed from third party to third party, unless restrictions are built into the sale.

Surely the BBC may have created short term cash flow but hasn't it given up desirable controls for little long term gain and more probably loss? Is this creeping ultimate total privatisation that would not meet public approval?

Others may say it signifies surrender to other existing corporate media entities that already have their own capitalisation difficulties caused by an incessant bidding war for "rights" in sport and other such fields!

Can the BBC maintain its quality of output and supposed independence?

In my many years in commerce and industry I have seen cyclic centralise decentralise efforts. In this case I see no way back. The Politicians and BBC are surely "playing Ducks and Drakes" squandering resources for little but "Policy".

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Mark Harriman's 11 posts GB flag
Sunday, 3 August 2014

12:31 AM

9 out of 10 viewers are far less interested in the study of BBC financing than if the programmes are worth watching or tinsel quizes or yank crap labeled 'drama' where to emphasize the 'f' word is used without regard for whose perhaps watching .
Each year the BBC gets £145.50 from us or we are fined far more - even if we never watch BBC, golden handshakes are still handed out - no doubt Tony Hall will smile as he gets his . Write critisising BBC and one is given a standard rebutle ammounting to 'know your place - you're only a licence payer' try to reach the big cheeeses and you get no further than an advisor . BBC must spend a bomb on the most confusing web site devised to stop phone calls to anyone who counts . However , if they sell off BBC (I mean all the BBC) then we have no pledge to end the compulsory licence and I suspect even more yanky crap or tinsel quizes will be aired between football and equilly boring sport. Arqiva or any other company taking over. The fact is BBC has cocked-up both radio and TV wasted £M's on digitization so we get a poorer signal in many areas and forgotten what good entertainment means.

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Watlingfen's 38 posts GB flag
Thursday, 7 August 2014
Friedon Miltman
6:17 PM

"Because you can not help noticing that the BBC now spends £222m a year on distribution. Which is ironic, because that is, in cash terms, what it got from privatizing BBC Transmission back in 1997."

The most imporant aspect which is not being highlighted is that that 222 million a year is now going to a private corporation and from the profit it makes on that 222 million, some of it goes into the pockets of the senior management and directors as bonuses as well as the dividend cheques of the stockholders.

Even better that most of those stockholders are not United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland citizens (the majority stockholder of Arquiva beiing Canada Pension Plan Investment Board) so money is being funneled overseas.

Surely this policy of redistributing public money from the license fee to the bank accounts of private individuals is just what any good Conservative or [right wing] Liberal should applaud and praise Margaret Thatcher and John Major for their policy of piecemeal privatization of the BBC?

Now if only David Cameron had the intelligence and political backbone to privatize more of the BBC and get more public money diverted into the pockets of overseas stockholders, his re-election would be guaranteed and his place in history as being a true capitalist would be assured.

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Friedon Miltman's 1 post LU flag
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