It was news that had production houses jumping for joy. Last week, the BBC announced plans to change how it commissions commercial production work, and will end its exclusive deal with Red Bee Media in 2015. Clip-based trails will be produced in-house, while other services will be put out to tender.
The ten-year deal with Red Bee Media (formerly BBC Broadcast before its sale to the banking group Macquarie) was widely despised: not only does the company have a monopoly on BBC work, but it is also expected to use directors on a loan basis. Many have refused. Last year, the Advertising Producers Association claimed the arrangement denied the BBC access to the best directors.
The BBC’s director of markets and audiences, Philip Almond, says the corporation will not renew the contract because he believes working with the wider creative and production community will stretch the BBC’s creative ambition and enable it to "seek the best the market can offer".
But, aside from the obvious benefits to the production community, will opening up its commercial services to the market really lead to better work for the BBC?
Philip Almond, director of markets and audiences, BBC
"We’ve made this move because we think it offers the best route to creative success in the long term. We’re proud of the BBC’s creative delivery in recent years and want to ensure it gets even better in an increasingly multimedia world. The production announcement is a small part of the way we’ll do this. We believe that having the ability to work with the wider creative and production community on some of the BBC’s biggest and best-loved brands will continue to stretch our creative ambition. We want to support new emerging talent, as well as work with the more established directors, seeking the best the market can offer."
Laura Gregory, chief executive and founder, Great Guns
"Ten years with the same wife, husband or partner is a long time in anyone’s life. Red Bee Media has run a tight ship for the BBC, winning many awards along the way. It understands how it ticks and what it likes for dinner. Freedom to choose a new partner will almost certainly see Red Bee pitching on most projects because of the comfort zone and the great work it has produced to date for the BBC. I’m sure the BBC will be fearful of moving away from such a trusted partner in the early days and it will take time to adjust. The resulting competition will be healthy for everyone."
Hannah Bentley, managing director, film, The Bank
"Auntie’s faith in the free market has to be lauded. However, the question to ask is whether multiple production partners could dilute service consistency or perhaps result in a more fragmented understanding of the brand. Also, there may be a cost compromise that impacts the creative product. The BBC might decide to produce less volume but, given the volume of material it has to produce and support, is that going to be a sustainable business model? Adland will enthusiastically welcome the meaty BBC briefs, but is bound to find the corporation’s constrained budgets frustrating."
Greg Hemes, executive head of production, 18 Feet & Rising
"Having worked on both sides of the Red Bee/BBC account, as both agency and production company producer, I feel the split will now give production companies complete autonomy, and we’ll see an improved creative output. It will allow production companies to be true collaborators, rather than having to loan their directors out just to execute ideas for a fee. They will also push the BBC harder, which it needs. But is the split about creativity or money? The BBC will challenge the production companies to maximise creative and cost solutions – a challenge they face day in and day out already."