Broadcast – All3Media boss urges BBC to tender flagship shows in Panel Involving Outline’s Laura Mansfield

The BBC must put some of its biggest shows, including EastEnders, out to tender once it drops its in-house quota system, according to All3Media boss Jane Turton.

Speaking on a Future of Commissioning panel at the Salford Media Festival earlier this week, the super-indie’s managing director said it would be “pragmatic” of the BBC to allow indies to compete to produce some of its biggest shows.

In July BBC director general Tony Hall revealed plans to tear up production quotas, unlocking commissioning opportunities worth around £400m to the indie sector. Under the proposals, BBC Productions would be freed up to make shows for rival broadcasters.

However in August, Danny Cohen revealed that long-running BBC in-house shows such as its flagship soap and Top Gear, would not be put out for tender.

“I would genuinely look at gifting out some of those bigger pieces to the independent sector because it’s showing that you mean it when you said you would agree to lose the quotas,” she said.

She added that the indie sector should be given the opportunity to take over production of the BBC’s biggest shows to demonstrate it could deliver “better value and tighter editorial spec”.

While the BBC has previously put major in-house shows including Question Time out to tender, Turton said releasing more flagship shows as part of the scrapping of the quaota system would be a real statement of intent.

Turton shared the panel with BBC head of factual and features Alison Kirkham, Outline Productions managing director Laura Mansfield and Channel 4 creative diversity development manager Ian MacKenzie.

But BBC head of factual and features Alison Kirkham claimed it was “reckless” to tinker with a production that was working well. “It wouldn’t be in the audience’s best interests,” she said.

Market distortion

The panel also debated the merits of BBC Productions pitching some of the corporation’s flagship shows to rival broadcasters.

Outline Productions managing director and Pact council member Laura Mansfield claimed that part of the reason shows such as Strictly Come Dancing were so popular was because they had received “years of investment”. She questioned whether the market would be artificially distorted by “lifting and shifting” them onto commercial channels.

“The challenge is going to be to free up BBC Productions in a way that doesn’t create issues of state aid and enables a level playing field to be created,” she added.

Kirkham said the “status quo” was no longer an option but warned BBC commissioners would have to work hard to avoid letting good BBC Productions’ shows “slip through” to other broadcasters.

“Anything that makes us more rigorous in the commissioning process is a good thing,” she added.

The shift will remove the restrictions applied to the BBC by the Window of Creative Commissioning, according to Turton, who expects it to become more creative as a result.

“You have the best possible choice with the fewest constraints,” said Turton.

She also warned against BBC Productions agreeing a first-look deal with the corporation once it is freed up to pitch widely.

“It will completely screw what the BBC is trying to do,” she said. “BBC Productions has to be free to develop for the best buyer.”