ITV’s Arguments For Banning Formats & U.S. Acquisitions On BBC Do Not Hold Water

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These are purely self-serving statements coming from a broadcaster who is still throwing a tantrum, like a petulant child, over the fact that they lost The Voice to the BBC back in 2011, says TVWise Editor Patrick Munn.

Last week, in a submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for their review of the BBC Charter, ITV made something of a blistering attack on the BBC, suggesting that the corporation should be banned from pursuing foreign formats and acquiring any U.S. content, including feature films as well as drama and comedy series.

BBCThat’s a good overview, but ITV’s argument was a little more nuanced, suggesting that while there should be a strict embargo on US content going to the BBC, they should pursue international formats or finished programmes from other international territories (think Scandinavian drama) only when there was no interest from commercial rivals.

I have little doubt that both the Select Committee and the Government – whoss agenda to dismantle the BBC piece by piece can no longer be denied, especially following recent statements by ideologue John Whittingdale – greeted the submission and its numerous rebukes of the BBC with glee, but frankly, ITV’s arguments over formats and acquisitions do not hold water.

In fact I’d argue that they are purely self-serving statements coming from a broadcaster who is still throwing a tantrum, like a petulant child, over the fact that they lost The Voice to the BBC back in 2011. It’s a lot of hot air. Given economic and budgetary concerns facing the BBC there absolutely is an argument to be made about the fact that the BBC should not be getting into bidding wars with rival broadcasters, be that for original dramas, formats or acquisitions. But to say that the BBC has no business operating in these areas is sheer lunacy.

StrictlyFormats tend to be the life-blood of the international market. One need only look at the amount of business BBC Worldwide does on Strictly or the level of success John De Mol has seen over the years to get a grasp of that notion. If we expect the world to buy BBC formats, can we really tell the world the BBC wont so much as look at their formats, irrespective of what merit they might have?

As a public service broadcaster, with a mandate to inform, educate and ENTERTAIN, the BBC absolutely has a right if not a duty to look at international formats. Especially as the BBC has established something of a decent track record here with shows such as The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den. As with any in-house or indie commission, these shows must perform but their origin alone can not be reason to ban them. The overall argument against formats is thoroughly specious and does not merit any real consideration.

Equally the argument against acquisitions is fairly nonsensical. The BBC has vastly reduced the amount of U.S. content they acquire from the Hollywood Studios in recent years (with perhaps the exception of feature films for Christmas). It has been a long time since the BBC has been one of the primary buyers at the LA Screenings. They have acquired only two U.S. dramas for BBC Two since 2010 (Pan Am and American Odyssey) and the BBC’s Director of Television Danny Cohen recently said there was no room for U.S. drama on BBC One.

Wilfred S4The lion’s share of the BBC’s U.S. scripted acquisitions in recent years went to BBC Three and even then we are talking about all of three series (Family Guy, American Dad and Wilfred), while BBC Four acquired one (Parks & Recreation). Of those, BBC Three dropped Wilfred and have lost first window rights to Family Guy and American Dad to ITV, while UKTV poached the rights to Parks & Recreation; reducing the BBC’s footprint in this area to zero. ZERO.

In fact, following the cancellation of BBC Two’s import American Odyssey, BBC execs themselves all but ruled out further U.S. acquisitions for the foreseeable future, with the SVPs at Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution and NBCUniversal having been briefed on the development. Given all of this, how can ITV claim the BBC is “wasting” enough money on U.S. scripted to be enough of a threat (remind me, who poached Family Guy?) to warrant a ban in the next charter? Like I said, a lot of hot air.