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BBC Sells 50% Share Of Discovery Channels For $156M

By | Monday November 15, 2010 @ 6:01am PST

The Beeb says it will plough the money into its own channels, including BBC America. It wants to concentrate on its own channels exclusively as opposed to running 50% of Animal Planet and Liv, the Latin American entertainment channel. It’s not as if BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster’s for-profit arm, is getting out  of channels that are failing. Ratings for Animal Planet, which reaches 250 million homes, are up year-to-date. Discovery Communications reported improved 3rd quarter financials at the beginning of this month, driven by US advertising growth of 16% and 23% internationally. For the full year 2010, Discovery expects to make a profit of $650-700 million on revenue of $3.8 billion. And the BBC has extended its co-production and acquisitions partnership with Discovery for 2 more years, to 2014. Rather, it’s been told to sell its stakes in non-branded BBC channels by oversight body the BBC Trust. It’s been a victim of its own success, media analyst Kate Bulkley tells me. “There have been calls that Worldwide tips the playing field in its favour because it controls such important BBC content assets and wields the world-recognised BBC brand,” she says.

But Discovery and the BBC may find themselves sharing some more channels very soon. Discovery Communications and Scripps Networks are vying to become BBC Worldwide’s new partner in UKTV, the broadcaster behind UK digital channels Dave, Watch and Gold, it has emerged. Virgin Media wants to sell its 50% share of … Read More »

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BBC License Frozen For 6 Years

By | Tuesday October 19, 2010 @ 10:32am PDT

The BBC was hit hard yesterday with what amounts to a 16% budget cut. The annual amount UK viewers must pay will stay at £145.50 ($229) for 6 years. The BBC is also being forced to pick up the cost of World Service and foot the bill for Welsh-language broadcaster S4C starting in 2015. Additionally, the BBC must spend plenty for broadband expansion as well as local television and online services. But the BBC was able to escape a proposal in which it would have picked up the £556 million ($879.7 million) annual bill for providing free TV licences to viewers over 75-years-old. Top executives had made the point that the aging population would have made that a crippling, unmanageable bill. The full extent of government cuts to the arts and media is due to be announced Wednesday.

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Brit Director Ken Loach Slams Executives

By | Friday October 15, 2010 @ 8:02am PDT

Loach, giving the keynote speech at the London Film Festival, ridiculed senior TV executives, such as James Murdoch using last year’s Edinburgh TV Festival’s annual MacTaggart Lecture to sound off. Loach said: “I knew Jimmy MacTaggart and I have to tell you Mr Senior Executive, Mr Junior Murdoch, Mr Big-Head-of-Whatever-You-Are, you are no Jimmy MacTaggart. Jimmy would have been horrified to think his name was taken to justify the overblown self-importance of these people.” BBC director general Mark Thompson gave this year’s Mactaggart speech. Loach, who began his career at the BBC, wished “good riddance” to senior Beeb executives recently made redundant and said more should follow. The BBC is stuffed with executives who rule by committee and stifle all original ideas, he said. Loach said the BBC has become the enemy of creativity, run by “time servers” who have reduced what was meant to be a National Theatre of the air to “a grotesque reality game.” He welcomed this week’s announcement of job losses for Sharon Baylay, the highly paid marketing chief, and deputy director Mark Byford, who leaves his £475,000-a-year post with a £3.7 million pension pot and a pay-off of almost £1 million. “I’m pleased to see — we all are — that people are going to lose their jobs, albeit that they need a £1 million handshake to get out the door. Great, good riddance, maybe a few more will join them. But let’s start cutting further down,” Loach … Read More »

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Brit TV Producers Say BBC Cuts Are “Long Overdue”

By | Thursday October 14, 2010 @ 1:28am PDT

The BBC’s in-house drama department is cutting 16% of its workforce. That’s 22 jobs out of the 140-strong BBC’s drama department. BBC in-house drama has already had its budget cut by 5% year on year. And the amount spent on TV drama will fall by 33 percent in 2010/11. The BBC’s £3.5 billion ($5.5 billion) licence fee has also been frozen this year and could be cut next year. Drama jobs are being cut across the board –- not just back-room staff but also script editors and producers as well. Jobs within series and serials are particularly affected. The BBC is now talking to staff about their taking voluntary packages. A decision about who is going will be made by early December. Read More »

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BBC Boss ‘Confident’ Over Licence Fee

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, says he’s upbeat over government negotiations to renew the £3.5 billion ($5.5 billion) licence fee. Talks over the next 4-year licence fee settlement, which runs 2013-16, are due to start next summer. The BBC has been having a bad time of it lately, rocked by scandals over executive pay and the amount it pays stars. Thompson, interviewed at today’s Royal Television Society International Conference in London, denied public perception of the Beeb has been damaged. If anything, he said, the public’s estimation of the BBC has gone up. The coalition government may still cut 2012’s licence fee, while the Beeb would like a 2% rise. It’s already offered to freeze this year’s licence fee. Right now every UK household pays for BBC service through a TV licence fee of £145.50 ($227).

Thompson suggested Brit TV viewers may be able to buy programmes through its new internet TV YouView service, which is due to launch spring 2011. The one-week window when viewers can watch BBC shows for free via the iPlayer will stay, Thompson said. But the director general said viewers may be able to download programmes to keep, much as you can buy BBC DVDs in shops today.

The BBC boss said the Corporation would not provide even more local news coverage. Thompson said the Corporation needs to make services it already runs better rather than expand further. Thompson was responding to UK culture secretary … Read More »

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BBC Stars Could Have Salaries Exposed

By | Wednesday September 22, 2010 @ 3:01am PDT

The BBC Trust, the Beeb’s internal regulator, is to give government spending watchdog the National Audit Office free rein to scrutinise its accounts. The Beeb is bowing to government pressure to give the NAO unfettered access to what it spends. This means that top BBC talent could have their salaries published for the first time. Plus many BBC stars make their shows for the Beeb through their own production companies. BBC stars who own their own production companies include Steve Coogan Read More »

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BBC Freezes Its TV Licence Fee For 2 Years

UPDATE: In announcing the freeze, the BBC has bowed to the inevitable. New UK Prime Minister David Cameron first called for the licence fee to be frozen in March. TV consultant Claire Enders of Enders Analysis tells me this is a ”sensible approach from the BBC to accept that it does not require this additional income to fulfill its responsibilities.” And budget trims of 3% sound measly at a time government departments are facing 25% reductions. But BBC Trust, the Beeb’s governing body, warns that £144 million will have to be chopped from planned budgets. Responds the TV Producers’ lobbyist PACT: “We are alarmed at what impact this may have on the TV programme budget and the consequences that any further reduction will have on individual programme budgets, which are already Read More »

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BBC3 Controller Danny Cohen Tipped To Replace Jay Hunt As BBC1 Boss

By | Tuesday September 14, 2010 @ 5:03am PDT

UPDATE: Danny Cohen has already been promised the job for promising not to apply for Chief Creative Officer job at Channel 4, I’m told. Hunt joins Channel 4 as CCO in early January. Julian Bellamy, who has been acting CCO, will exit the network after a handover period. Hunt has only been with BBC1 for 2½ years, where her successes include Sherlock and, to a lesser extent, Luther. Before that she was controller of BBC Daytime. Hunt’s new job will have Read More »

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BBC Chief Blasts Rupert & James Murdoch

As expected, BBC director general Mark Thompson has gone on the attack against the Murdochs and News Corp. He warned that Sky will shortly become Britain’s biggest broadcaster and said such a concentration of cross-media ownership would not be allowed in the U.S.. Thompson blasted Sky for spending so little on original programming and pointed out that the £100 million it spends each year is not much more than Channel 5’s UK programme budget. This is despite Sky’s £5.9 billion turnover being more than 15 times that of Five’s.

Thompson also used his keynote Edinburgh TV festival speech to single out News Corp for weakening and undermining the BBC. At times, he evoked playwright Dennis Potter’s fiery 1993 Mactaggart lecture pouring bile on Rupert Murdoch. Thompson defended the BBC as an idea of “public space”, one which “would not put anybody on the wrong side of an encryption wall”. Thompson criticised the Murdoch press for chipping away at the BBC trying to uncover some new petty scandal. Stories attacking the BBC were ramped up, distorted or just plain nonsense, Thompson said. One reporter cheerfully admitted to him that his newspaper bosses were just out to get the Corporation. The free-marketers have spent the last 25 years making a case for abolishing the BBC, said Thompson, yet public support for the Beeb has actually increased.

“Enemies of public service broadcasting always want to atomise … Read More »

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BBC Boss Mark Thompson To Lay Into Sky

Thompson will attack Sky tonight during his Mactaggart lecture speech at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. Thompson will point to the vast scale of Sky and its influence over the UK broadcasting industry. He will compare the £2 billion the Corporation spends on programmes with the estimated £100 million Sky spends on original UK content. This is despite the BBC’s annual £3.6 billion licence fee being smaller than the £5.3 billion Sky earned last year. The BBC Director General is taking the gloves off and going on the offensive tonight, telling staff in a recent email that “it’s time to take on some of the BBC’s critics head-on”. Last year, News Corp director James Murdoch used the lecture to delivering a withering attack on the BBC, describing its scale as “chilling”.

Tonight’s keynote speech is seen as make-or-break for Thompson, who faces growing unrest among BBC staff. BBC employees are currently being balloted on whether to take strike action over plans to make their pensions less generous. And they smell double standards when top BBC managers opt to stay in London while the rank and file are forced to move to Salford, near Manchester. The BBC is moving more production to the north of England in order to stop the Corporation being such a metropolitan broadcaster.

In a nod to the challenges faced by the BBC’s commercial rivals, Thompson will … Read More »

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Scrapping Licence Fee Will Give BBC ‘Global Prescence of Hollywood Studio’

By | Monday August 2, 2010 @ 6:01am PDT

So says a new report on the future of the BBC, published by the Adam Smith Institute, known for its free-market views. The report, Global Player Or Subsidy Junkie?, argues that the BBC is far too inward looking. Its dependence on a compulsory tax means it spends too much energy defending itself with government. The BBC is the only state broadcaster in the world that not funded directly by the state. Instead, each UK household must pay an additional £143 ($227) a year on top of what it already pays in tax. David Graham, the report’s author, says that the BBC invests heavily in “opinion management” rather than being international in its outlook. It spends too much time worrying what politicians think rather than making shows you can export overseas. Scrapping the licence fee and replacing it with voluntary PBS-style subscription, would give the BBC “the global presence of a Hollywood studio, but with a wider range of output than a Hollywood studio,” says Graham.

Replacing the £3.5 billion annual licence fee with a voluntary subscription — topped up by government until 2015 to ensure BBC services don’t suffer for now – would also level the playing field for commercial rivals. Graham argues that the licence fee is an enforced payment system for services available elsewhere for free through advertising. Almost everything the BBC does is matched by the private sector, including classical music radio. The BBC’s massive footprint – combined … Read More »

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BLIMEY! British Government May Give $19M Lottery Cash To BBC Films And Film4

EXCLUSIVE: The UK government is considering handing over the £15 million of lottery film production cash, which the UK Film Council currently handles, to public broadcasters the BBC and Channel 4. Ed Vaizey, the government arts minister, has talked about splitting the UKFC’s £15 million of lottery funding only recently. He argues that both broadcasters both fund the same kind of films. One UKFC insider I spoke to today described this as an “appallingly dumb” idea. “It may have come up now they are desperately scrabbling around for something to do with film money,” this insider tells me.

Even if BBC Films and Film4 go with the plan – and both complain that they’ve long been starved of funds – what’s to stop Auntie BBC and Channel 4 from just cutting their annual budgets as a result? BBC Films currently receives £12 million a year, while Channel 4 has just had its budget increased to £10 million annually. Producers would also likely howl as it further reduces the number of gatekeepers from three to two.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport tells me nothing has been decided yet. A detailed implementation plan will be worked out over the summer. But DCMS is considering options to transfer these funds to other existing bodies. There’s been talk of the British Film Institute handling the lottery production cash through an arm’s length commercial body — much like the arrangement BBC has with BBC Worldwide. I’m … Read More »

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DIGITAL TV GOLD RUSH: BBC Pulls Wraps Off Project Canvas

PD*10000606BBC Trust, Auntie’s oversight body, has approved the on-demand UK digital TV service. Project Canvas will enable the BBC’s hugely-popular iPlayer service available to TVs for the first time. Canvas – which is likely to be renamed YouView – is set to launch in April 2011. The BBC and partners including ITV, Channel 4, Five, Arqiva, BT and TalkTalk will spend £116 million ($174 million) on the project over four years.

“This is essentially giving the green light to big public service broadcasters doing internet television on their terms,” says Informa senior TV analyst Julia Glotz.

The BBC has made a few not-especially-taxing provisos, however, the key one being that its investment must not bust 20% of estimated costs over five years. The BBC is set to spend £25 million ($38 million) developing Canvas.

What it means for TV viewers is watching the Beeb’s hugely popular iPlayer catch-up service through the telly, rather than on computer. Canvas will also carry the on-demand catch-up services from ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five.

On-demand movie channels including Lovefilm are also expected to become available. And it paves the way for hundreds of specialist TV channels, ranging from motorcycling to horse-racing, being launched for enthusiasts.

Glotz says: “One of the BBC Trust’s conditions is that there will be open access to this platform, which will be in millions of homes.”

Melanie Bloomfield, broadband media analyst at Screen Digest, warns that with so many new services, viewers may not be able … Read More »

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