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BBC and Television Genres in Jeopardy

Jeremy Tunstall

This book considers British television from the point of view of executive producers: the people who employ the workforce and are in charge of making all television series. The focus of the book is twenty-one separate genres, at least seven of which are in significant decline – namely current affairs, education, natural history, science, arts, children’s and religion. Some other public service genres – such as documentary, history and travel – are in good health. The most commercially successful genres include formatted factual entertainment series, such as cooking, homes, quiz/game, reality and sport.
The author completed 150 interviews not only with executive producers but with BBC and ITV channel controllers and top genre commissioners. Playing a supporting role are another 200 interviews, which were the basis of the author’s 1993 book, Television Producers. Since 1990, and especially since 2008, British television production has faced financial challenges. Meanwhile, BSkyB, Virgin Media and Channel Five are American controlled, and most of the larger London ‘independent’ production companies are now American or Euro-American owned and operated. Public service broadcasting in general, and BBC television in particular, are threatened with probable further decline. This book offers new insights into the state of British television through the eyes of those working on the inside.
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Chapter 12: TV Policy in Fragments, Genres in Jeopardy



TV Policy in Fragments, Genres in Jeopardy

Ever since 1914–18, British audio-visual policy has been fragmented. In recent years British television policy has been fragmented across a range of political players, organisations and agencies. Policy is led by the Prime Minister, other senior ministers and their Whitehall Departments, Parliament, OFCOM (the official Communications regulator) and by the Office of Fair Trading/Competition Commission regulators. Additional significant players, in setting audio-visual and television policy, are the Newspapers, the BBC, ITV, BSkyB, and other TV companies, including the ‘Independent Producers’.

The UK has in practice developed three quite different Television Policy regimes. There is one Public Service Broadcasting regime; secondly a regime of very light (or very little) regulation for American companies; and thirdly a more mixed regime for the Murdoch family interests.

Firstly a Public Service Broadcasting regime applies to the BBC, ITV, C4 and C5.1 Everyone agrees that PSB requires these channels to offer a multi-genre diet of programming.

There is a second regime for American/Hollywood commercial companies which allows these companies to ignore PSB requirements. Hollywood-in-London and Silicon-Valley-in-London companies are secretive about their UK finances and typically pay little or no tax (by pretending that their UK business is based in Ireland or some other tax haven). These American companies benefit from extreme scale economies at home, and even more extreme scale advantages in the UK. The companies have long established ← 357 | 358 → commercial marketing pipelines. The...

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