Is BBC's production arrangement fair?

Sixteen years after the BBC produced its epic version of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, which ended by pointing out that the corporation was able to cater for all tastes because it was funded by everyone, a proposed successor to this ad has highlighted another aspect of the broadcaster’s unique funding.

Or, more particularly, its relationship with the production company Red Bee Media, formerly part of the corporation and known as BBC Broadcast. The BBC asked Karmarama to create a film to promote its music coverage but, because of the broadcaster’s contract with Red Bee, its preferred production supplier, directors were unable (or unwilling) to pitch to shoot the ads on a loan basis.

It’s not a new dispute – rather a festering one – but the scale of the proposed new campaign has meant that it has resurfaced and the Advertising Producers Association is crying foul. As well as being unfair, the APA also claims the arrangement is denying the BBC access to the best directors.

The APA is demanding a free market, while the BBC insists that it has done nothing wrong. But is the corporation being unfair?


Leila Bartlam, head of film, Havas Worldwide London

"It seems clear to me that the BBC is not treating APA companies fairly. What’s most disappointing is its unwillingness to enter meaningfully into the debate. I would love to see the fine print of the contract between Red Bee and the BBC, which could perhaps shed light on what appears to be a questionable deal. Putting aside arguments over what is or isn’t fair, one can’t help wondering why the BBC doesn’t want to buy the best creative at the best value for money. Red Bee is running a business and I respect what it has achieved, but I would strongly support the APA in calling upon our industry colleagues at the BBC to rethink their response."

Production company

Madeleine Sanderson, managing director, Partizan

"No, I don’t think the BBC is treating production companies fairly. We find and nurture directing talent, and then work with that talent to ensure the creative idea realises its full potential. The idea that we should lend that talent to a competitor is an odd one. As the BBC has discovered, the reality is that it cannot borrow that top directing talent. So the BBC loses out and we miss out on good creative work. There is an easy answer here for the BBC: don’t renew the ten-year Red Bee contract and come and work with all of us. You will get the best work at a competitive price."

Trade body

Steve Davies, chief executive, Advertising Producers Association

"When selling it to Macquarie, the BBC gave Red Bee an exclusive ten-year contract to boost its sale price. Since then, it has fairly hopelessly sought to justify that decision by claiming Red Bee gives it best value. As every other advertiser can see – and the laws of the market tell us – best value is actually achieved by using the oversupplied production sector, which represents the best directing and production talent, to get the best work at the best price. The Red Bee contract comes to an end next year and there is no justification for extending it. We hope the BBC will acknowledge that instead of defending the indefensible."

Production company

Sally Campbell, founding partner, Somesuch & Co

"The BBC believes it must work with Red Bee to get value for money. This is simply untrue. Any production company in the UK could compete with Red Bee and produce better ads. Why? Because directors work better with their own production companies. Established relationships are what facilitate the best work. Red Bee’s, and therefore the BBC’s, unethical way of working completely undermines that relationship. If the BBC embraced the open market, it would not only get to work with better directors, but the work would be of a much higher standard."