Tuesday 17 September 2019

BritBox ‘gun to the head’ for independent TV producers, says industry chief

Pact’s John McVay said that the BBC and ITV’s joint venture would hit independent production companies.

BritBox homepage (ritBox/PA)
BritBox homepage (ritBox/PA)

By Alex Green, PA Entertainment Reporter

The BBC has been accused of putting a “gun to the head” of independent production companies, by implementing a new rule for its BritBox service.

The broadcaster intends to change iPlayer from a 30-day catch-up service to make programmes available for 12 months as standard, with some available for longer.

Programmes will then be able to transfer to BritBox, the BBC’s joint streaming service with ITV, which will launch in the UK between October and December.

Trade association Pact has condemned the move, saying it would hit the finances of the UK’s independent production companies.

Chief executive John McVay said that by enforcing the policy, the BBC was throwing independent producers “under a bus”.

Mr McVay said he wanted to see BritBox become “a massive commercial success” but that it should be run on “sound commercial grounds”.

He accused the BBC’s director-general Lord Hall of not telling the truth when he previously said that BritBox would indeed be run on such grounds.

He also described Ofcom’s response to the issue as “disappointing”.

I think it's disappointing that Ofcom seem to think this is OK John McVay

Mr McVay made the comments during a press briefing ahead of the release of Pact’s annual industry report on Friday.

He said: “We think BritBox is fine, but if you look at Tony Hall’s statements they said this would be operating as a fully commercial company – it would be run on proper commercial grounds.

“Sadly the BBC’s proposals on their programme release policy means that it is not operating on proper commercial grounds, because the policy means we can only sell programming at 12 months to BritBox.

“We can’t sell to anyone else because no-one else will qualify.

“That’s not an open commercial market, and I think it’s disappointing that Ofcom seem to think this is OK.

“Ofcom is a competition regulator. Their primary purpose is to make sure that we, the consumers, benefit from an open and competitive market.

“That drives efficiency and commercial success.”

He added: “We are very not happy with the current BBC BritBox proposals.

“We have no problem with the other guys: ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5. We have got deals, or we are discussing deals.

“The BBC has basically sought to gerrymander the terms of trade to benefit something they have a commercial interest in.

“I think that is completely unacceptable when Tony Hall said this would be run on commercial grounds. It seems to be that he wasn’t telling the truth.

“We would like the BBC to release programming at 12 months without any restrictions. Then Netflix can bid for it. BritBox can bid for it.

“It’s a gun to their head.”

A BBC spokeswoman denied that BritBox would not function on commercial grounds.

She said: “BritBox will operate on commercial grounds as we’ve always said.

“It will be an additional investor in the market, and there’s nothing in our approach that will stop producers getting a fair market rate for their content.

“It’s for producers and their distributors to decide who they want to sell to and on what terms.”

The Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact) represents the independent content producers in feature film, television, animation, children’s and digital media.

An Ofcom spokeswoman said: “We are considering responses to our consultation on the BBC’s involvement in Britbox from Pact and other interested parties, and expect to publish our final decision shortly.”

PA Media

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