Friday, September 05, 2008

BBC power shift: radical reshape or a new layer?

Front page lead on the new issue of Broadcast trumpets BBC plans to give network commissioning power to executives outside London. At least five new commissioners will be recruited across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with responsibility for ensuring what the Beeb spends in these nations matches their UK population proportion. The Borg-like Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow will be home for at least three of these commissioning executives.

The Broadcast piece also takes about BBC Scotland pumping by its spending on original network content from £31 million to £75 million by 2016. And there's talk of local soap River City going national [but no mention of the upheavals reportedly happening at Dumbarton right now]. All this sounds great, right? More money and more power for the nations, finally a move to devolve commissioning power beyond the M25. Not before time, some might say.

But let's look at the fine print. It seems national headquarters will have the final say on commissions - on paper. In practice all decisions will have to be backed by a genre commissioners based in - you guessed it - London. And final approval actually falls to individual channel controllers. That's akin to saying a film director has final cut so long as everyone above her and him likes it. Radical reshape? Perhaps, but not too radical.

The hope for creatives and indies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is these new executives will act as advocates for talent beyond the border of England. The danger is the new executives could become another layer of management, another filter that must be passed through before any project can get to someone with the power to greenlight it. As always in these things, time will tell.

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