Posts Tagged 'scottish broadcasting'

Growing Scotland’s film and television – yes please Minister(s)

Though some practitioners are expressing ‘consultation fatigue’ (following the Creative Scotland Film Sector review (which I chaired) and subsequent consultation on its Film Strategy 2014-17, the Scottish Parliament Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s enquiryto consider how Scotland can grow sustainable TV and film and video games industries” it is an important opportunity to set out the potential for growth as well as the obstacles facing our screen practitioners and businesses and encourage Parliament to press the Scottish Government  to seriously up its support for the sector if it really wants to see the culture, economic and social benefits from the moving image that other European countries have achieved through concerted action.  My tuppence worth is available along with the other eighteen [since posting the number has risen to 40] written evidence submissions (though one of them seems to have wandered in by mistake!) here. The committee will be taking further evidence from a variety of practitioners and agencies during January starting with Games on the 14th, TV and film on the 21st, public agencies on the 28th and Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs on the 4th of February. Given the concern for the economic impact of the creative industries it is curious that the Committee, so far at least, doesn’t plan to take evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney.  He’s the person who really holds the key to investment in the sector…having read and heard the evidence from all the above perhaps the committee will then have some questions for him.

UPDATE 4/2/15 in recent days John Swinney’s name has appeared on the agenda alongside Fiona Hyslop to appear in front of the committee today which suggests that the committee members/those giving evidence have successfully upped the ante..

We’re smart enough and have the resources to run our own TV

(Originally published on the Guardian Website Tuesday 16th September)

Claire Enders (What would a Scottish yes mean for democracy, 14 September) claims that “Scotland simply isn’t big enough to support strong independent media”.

She suggests the substitution of a Scottish Broadcasting Service for the BBC in Scotland would reduce media plurality. However, since 1957 Scotland has had an independent commercial station, STV, with a vibrant news and current affairs output, which would continue to offer strong competition to any licence-fee/state-funded broadcaster. Not since the 1980s has Channel 4 had any Scottish current affairs or political output, so the level of plurality would remain unchanged.

She suggests Scotland could not secure a free-to-air deal with the BBC. The licence fee (or post-independence equivalent) in Scotland raises £300m; the pro-rata share of network BBC television is £75m, while BBC Scotland costs £86m. Even if the BBC secured £100m for supplying its services to Scotland (considerably more than Ireland currently pays for the same privilege), that would still leave £200m to fund SBS, radio and online services.

After independence the Scottish parliament and whichever government the people of Scotland elect would shape Scotland’s media regulation. Holyrood, elected on a proportional representation basis, and with much greater cross-party pre–legislative scrutiny, is considerably more democratic than Westminster.

Scottish Television: What would it look like? (revisited)

Much has been made of the prospect of Scotland ‘losing out’ were we to substitute a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation for the BBC, here are some wise words on why it might be a good idea:

“It was not necessarily the case that Taggart was any more regressive than Eastenders  in its representations of national character, or that Burnistoun is any worse than Citizen Khan.  It is not even that any of these programmes are particularly dreadful in themselves.  The questions returns to institutions.  It is simply that there is a limited amount of space within the schedules and a limited amount of institutional and financial support for the production of Scottish discourses, with the result that there is a highly restricted range of images available for the representation of Scottishness.  Whereas the representations of English country life in Downtown Abbey take their place within a range of other images from situation comedies, police series, single plays, classic serials, drama documentaries and soap operas, the representations of River City or Waterloo Road become the only consistent and recurrent images of Scottishness available at the time.

 

These words were actually written over 30 years ago (with the exception of the programme titles which I’ve updated from Dr Finlay’s Casebook/All Creatures Great and Small/Take the High Road/Emmerdale Farm) by John Caughie in an essay titled ‘Scottish Television: what would it look like?‘ in that pivotal text on representations of Scottishness in film and TV: Scotch Reels.  Published as part of a concerted intervention in the Scottish media landscape, it prefaced a lively debate at the 1982 Edinburgh International Film Festival ( a great deal livelier than its equivalent session at this year’s TV Festival) they remain as relevant today.

Scotland’s missing MEDIA millions

First the good news – the EU MEDIA fund invested nearly €8m in UK film, television and interactive media companies last year, supporting everything from documentary film project development and training programmes such as our very own ENGAGE project to UK distribution companies like Artificial Eye and Soda Pictures and Scottish cinemas such as Glasgow Film Theatre, DCA and Filmhouse.

Now the bad news. Scotland’s share of MEDIA funds to support film and television production has slumped to its second lowest level ever while Welsh and Irish producers continue to access much higher levels of development cash.  The Welsh, for example, between 2001 and 2009 secured over twice as much (€4m) development cash as Scotland’s €1.9m.

The EU MEDIA programme, which in various guises has been running since 1990, is designed to help build a stronger European industry and promote wider circulation of film and TV across national boundaries.  The UK has historically done well out of MEDIA’s various interventions in training, project development, distribution and exhibition and in the past Scottish production companies have been quite successful at tapping this investment source. So while its great to see two Scottish based companies (Synchronicity Films and True TV & Film) sharing in the €1.1m of funds awarded to the UK in the latest round of single project funding its rather worrying that there are only two.  It’s even more worrying to see that none of our production companies have secured slate development funds since 2006. It would be comforting to think that these figures are just a blip rather than symptomatic of a trend but looking back over the past decade our analysis shows that from a high in the early 2000’s, Scotland’s share of MEDIA investment in production companies has dropped steadily since 2004 while England, Wales and Ireland’s shares have held up well, especially given enlargement of the EU in 2005.  Looking at MEDIA project, slate and TV broadcasting funds combined Scottish companies’ take has declined from an average of over €300K in the first half of the decade to around €60K on average over the past four years.

Of particular concern is the fact that no Scottish-based company has secured MEDIA slate funding since 2006. (London based Ecosse films secured slate funding in 2008 and have just announced they are opening a Glasgow office headed up by former Scottish Screen Head of Talent Carole Sheridan but it would be misleading to count them in the 2008 figures on that basis). Slate funding gives production companies vital working capital with some discretion over which particular project it is invested in, depending on timing and market conditions.  Given that one might reasonably expect that over the last few years more companies would be in a position to put forward a slate of projects the figures suggest that the companies that have previously received slate funding are not yet in a position to secure a second tranche and that newer companies that have previously received single project funding still haven’t reached the point where they can present a credible basket of projects.  (The most optimistic interpretation is that they don’t need MEDIA’s help at all because they are able to access sufficient development funds elsewhere but this is rather unlikely.)  Alternatively it may be that Scottish companies simply aren’t developing projects with appeal outside the UK which for some television genres is quite likely but for feature film, documentary and animation, co-production is practically obligatory so the fact that so few have succeeded to secure that most precious of risk money, development funding, is a significant indicator of international weakness in the Scottish production sector.

There are, it has to be said, some bigger issues at stake here.  Scotland, because it is a part of the UK, doesn’t benefit from designation as a country ‘with low audiovisual production capacityunlike every other EU country other than France, Germany, Italy and Spain.  Ireland, on the other hand does, and designation as such earns more points in the competitive evaluation of funding bids.  That said Wales doesn’t benefit from the designation yet its producers are doing a lot better than the Scots.

As ever in the screen industry Ireland presents a useful comparator and there the story is once again rather different.  Over the past decade Irish producers have typically accessed three times as much MEDIA funding as Scots and, tellingly, have in the past three years secured over a million Euros of slate development funding compared to a princely €80,000 in Scotland.

At the other end of the journey from idea to screen is distribution and once again the MEDIA programme offers support to hard pressed independent production companies trying to get their programmes seen beyond the UK.  In the early 2000’s Scottish producers regularly accessed the TV Broadcasting fund, averaging over €120,000 a year investment from 2001 to 2004.  Since then no Scottish company has been awarded support while Welsh producers have on average received over half a million euros a year.  The existence of a well resourced Welsh (and English) language broadcaster –S4C – may be the key here as it plays a pivotal role in co-financing and broadcasting deals with its opposite numbers in other European countries.  Scotland, by contrast, can bring very little to the table in terms of domestic broadcaster investment.

It isn’t pleasant drawing attention to these comparisons but without considering the facts, however unpalatable they are, we won’t get very far in identifying what is needed to improve Scottish film and television’s international presence and revenues.

In the film sector in particular co-production is a practical necessity even if opinion is divided about whether it’s always desirable.  The combination of limited domestic markets and the fact that distributor/financiers need to find partners to share the risk of what are relatively small slates of projects, mean few European films of any scale are made without at least one partner from another territory.  Indeed Hollywood studios apply exactly the same risk spreading principle to the financing of studio slates so the economic logic of co-financing is pretty much universal.  The extent to which the pull of co-production may distort the creative integrity or unnecessarily complicate the production process and add costs is a much debated topic.  It featured for example in the most recent cycle of ENGAGE co-production workshops for new filmmakers led by Screen Academy Scotland.  But even if many producers view co-production as a mixed blessing, for the foreseeable future it can only continue to grow in importance and in that context support systems such as the MEDIA programme remain a vital aid to developing and distributing across borders. Scotland’s production community is clearly missing out on that support and needs to address why that is. Equally Blair Jenkins and the rest of the expert panel hatching plans for a Scottish Digital Network ought to consider carefully how to engage with international audiences and finance if Scottish screen talent, product and producers are to reach beyond these borders.

Time to call ‘turn over’ for greater TV turnover

Last night, on the eve of the TV industry’s annual migration to Edinburgh from London (where notwithstanding the BBC’s efforts to shift production into the nations and regions, most of it remains domiciled) a vision of televisual growth and opportunity was unveiled by Tern TV’s David Strachan in the august surroundings of the National Library of Scotland.  “Growing the Television Broadcast and Production Sector in Scotland” is the much anticipated report of the working group set up in the wake of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, which published its closely argued and impassioned final report (‘Platform for Success’) back in September 2008 to be followed by Scottish Enterprise’s rather more prosaic contribution “Building the ‘Platform for Success’” in March 2009.

In a nutshell the report argues that television in Scotland is looking at a three-year window of opportunity to achieve 60% growth in commissions and employment.  That would see turnover grow from £215m to £346m and employment from just under 3,000 to the full –time equivalent of over four and half thousand jobs.  However as the report notes:

“This will only happen with collective and coordinated action across broadcasters, independent production companies and the public sector”.

While the major driver of this anticipated growth is the BBC’s commitment to increase network production in Scotland to account for 9% of its spend, an increase of £50m a year by 2016, the report also expects higher levels of commissioning by Channel 4 and, in the longer term, other broadcasters to be part of the mix.

But there are significant barriers to achieving this step change and, as in the film sector, a key one is the question of scale and diversity of companies.  Skills gaps are another barrier, the Catch 22 of growing network production in genres that Scottish companies have historically not been adept at is that you can only become adept at developing and producing entertainment or drama if you have had commissions that allow you to grow that expertise!  Lacking a domestic market of sufficient scale to give companies both the business base and the range of genre expertise that can migrate to network, the danger is that increased demand from network commissioners will be met by local branches of London companies importing talent and skills ‘known’ to network commissioners.  This is nothing new – it’s been the central issue facing indies and broadcasters in Scotland since 1982 and the creation of Channel 4.

The solution to this market failure?  Coordinated action (which includes significant public investment) to address the questions of scale, sustainability and skills that can get Scotland’s producers – indie and in-house BBC/STV –  into the premier league across the full breadth of programme genres. 

Who will deliver this?  The report suggests Creative Scotland should take the lead, building on the model of the Creative Industries Partnership Reference Group, but calls more broadly on the ‘public sector’ to provide up to £10m a year (though some of that might come from the BBC and Channel 4) through various mechanisms ranging from Seed Equity Finance of £50k to new start-up companies through to Production Incentive Finance of up to £500k a shot to support ‘productions of scale’.  The report suggests that the latter investment could itself lever an additional £12m a year securing or creating around 240 jobs a year.

How will it be paid for?  According to insiders one of the reasons the report has taken so long to hit the streets has been Scottish Enterprise’s seeming reluctance to sign up to hard figures on the necessary pump-priming investment – presumably for fear that the larger portion of it might have to come from its budget with no guarantee of the Government chipping in, particularly in the current climate.

So it boils down to whether the potential return of an extra £130m to the Scottish economy, 1700 jobs a year and a step change in Scottish broadcasting and production with significant wider cultural and economic benefits (e.g. to the ‘creative supply chain’ of writers, directors, designers, actors, facilities and technology companies etc.)  is worth the risk of around £10m a year in investment – around a third of the cost of the proposed new Forth Bridge or what the Government currently spends on supporting air services to the further reaches of the country. 

Assuming around half of the necessary investment – say £5m – were to come from Scottish enterprise that would be just over 2% of its annual investment budget.  On its own figures the current Gross Value Added (GVA) of the sector is £153m a year.  Taking the mid-point between its worst case and best case scenarios gives an additional £76m a year GVA, even if the return were only £50m that would still be a ten-fold return on investment.  In opportunity-cost terms that seems like a pretty competitive proposition and arguably at a considerably lower risk than in many (most?) other sectors.

How new is the new creative economy and is it really shrinking?

In the first of an occasional Friday series on the language of policy we take a look at when and how ‘creative economy’ entered the lexicon of policy wonks, politicians, academics and the chattering classes (apologies if you feel you don’t belong to any of the foregoing!).

Many people think John Howkins coined the term with his 2001 book The Creative Economy but in fact it was in use considerably earlier than that.  Ten years earlier in The Times (April 13th 1991) Neil Kinnock was reported as indicating “Labour was proposing a move towards a ”learning society”, the only sure foundation of a creative economy. Labour’s technology trusts would bring together universities, industrialists and financial institutions. They would try to commercialize ideas developed in universities and by other public bodies, giving inventions a real chance of being manufactured in Britain.” 

The following year, 1992, Chinese Central committee member Yang Jike opined that: “the combination of science and technology with creative power results in a creative economy and a restructured economy; and the combination of science and technology with information results in an information economy and a policy-making economy” ( Xinhua news agency domestic service 7 Nov 1992)

A year later neighbouring Japan was looking forward to the Creative Economy in a Government sponsored report calling for “Formation of a Domestic-Demand-Led Economy and a Sophisticated, Creative Economy” as one of five core principles for economic reform. (The Daily Yomiuri, December 18, 1993)

Closer to home in 1995 an Irish Times opinion piece calling on the Irish Government to end subsidy of Temple Bar area (now somewhat synonymous with stag and hen parties but intended to be a dynamic cultural quarter) suggested: “The rest of the creative economy upon which the expensive edifice of government rests will have to fork out to pay for the tax-holiday of those in Temple Bar. There’s no such thing as a free lunch no such thing as a free tax-break. Somebody will always pay the revenue missing.”

Things really hotted up (in the UK) with Labour’s 1997 election and in a critique of the Arts Council of Great Britain (and in terms familiar to us from the debate over the establishment of Creative Scotland) the Guardian’s Johnathan Glancey observed: “For [Culture Minister Chris] Smith and New Labour it [the Arts Council] represents a top-down approach to the arts that seems not only out of step with Government thinking, but a long way removed from the way that the creative economy’ works in 1997. It does seem remarkable that full-time career bureaucrats, based largely in London, have the power to channel funds to one artist or group of artists and away from another. The paperwork, committees, in-fighting and jostling for position involved seem utterly divorced from the artistic process. Far better to be funded or commissioned by a maverick private patron, perhaps, than by committees. Great art is not the product of consensus, but of confidence, risk-taking and even recklessness.

Smith gave a speech on the Creative Economy at that Autumn’s Labour conference (though ‘Cool Britannia’ was the tabloid’s preferred term) and Tony Blair used the pages of the Mirror to say “Government can help build a creative economy fit to take on the world in the new Millennium.” (3/10/1997)

Back on home turf  (and eerily presaging Andrew Dixon’s recent tour)  in 1999 ‘ART CHIEFS HIT THE ROAD WITH MISSION TO LISTEN’ was the headline in The Scotsman (August 11th) reporting the launch of the national consultation on cultural strategy that has led, via many twists and turns, to where we are today, mere months away from the formal launch of the agency charged with making Scotland’s creative economy both bigger and better.  Eleven years back  “The value of the arts to Scotland’s economy is also stressed in the consultation document, Celebrating Scotland. The “creative economy” has been estimated by Scottish Enterprise as generating GBP 5.3 billion a year and sustaining 91,000 jobs.” 

Interestingly, if rather worryingly,  ten years later the Government told us “The creative industries in Scotland has an estimated turnover of £5.1 billion in 2007 and employed 60,700 people .” – not exactly good news if the data is truly like for like, which of course it almost certainly isn’t. (see Creative Industries, Creative Workers and the Creative Economy: A review of selected recent literature. )

Always ahead of the curve (and keen to work football into any discussion) Channel 4 nations and regions chief Stuart Cosgrove (rightly) berated the meeja/policy wonk’s determined focus on the issue of  ‘a Scottish Six’ (O’clock news)’  as a distraction from wider issues:

This month, Scotland’s two biggest clubs, Rangers and Celtic, will commission more media work than most broadcasters. They are vital to Scotland’s creative economies – building websites, driving e-commerce, pioneering live beam-back television, planning pay-per-view channels and commissioning sell-through videos for the Christmas market.”  (‘So who do you think controls the future of Scottish broadcasting?’ Scotsman 3/12/99)

As we entered the 2st century the term really took hold of our politicians’ imaginations: 

Scotland’s creative industries, already worth £5 billion every year, are to receive £25 million worth of investment as part of a new strategy, MSPs heard yesterday. The pledge was made by Nicol Stephen, deputy minister for enterprise, speaking during a debate on the creative economy. Mr Stephen said that the executive wanted to see the sector grow, year on year, by 10 per cent. Acknowledging that the sector was both “wide” and “diverse”, Mr Stephen explained that it encompassed industries as wide ranging as architecture, computer games and advertising.” (The Scotsman, 28/9/00)  By this point the number of people employed in the sector was miraculously back up to 100,000 (unlikely) – or he was using a different definition (likely).

Not everyone in Scotland at the turn of the millenium was so enamoured of the Creative Economy though. 

The debate on the “creative economy” is typical of this Government’s flatulent filibustering when it has nothing new to say but needs to deny debating time for more important issues like the SQA shambles. I ask Rhona Brankin if the Government will invest scarce public funds in a so-called film studio at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay when developers are already willing to make a huge private investment for a film studio of international scale elsewhere in Scotland. A polite body swerve is her response.” (Brian Montieth. MSP’s Parlimaemtary diary in the Herald 9/10/2000)

So the term ‘Creative Economy’ has been in fairly widespread use for the best part of twenty years and it seems we still dont know for sure just how big it is or how many people work in it and therefore how fast it is growing.  Another argument (if any were needed) for someone (Creative Scotland?) to knock heads together to establish a data collection, research and analysis unit fit for the creative economy of this century rather than the nineteenth. 

Have a good weekend!

A bright new broadcasting future coming to a screen near you – perhaps

Whoever wrote Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop’s keynote speech for today’s “Where now for Scottish Broadcasting?” gathering in Glasgow got the topic trinity right – what will be the respective contributions of the longed-for Scottish Digital Network, the existing broadcasters and the public agencies in addressing the cultural, democratic and economic deficit that characterises the existing state of affairs. Addressing those themes the Minister made much of the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership (SCIP) which she and no doubt every one else in the room feverently hopes will bring a much needed joined-up approach to the broadcasting and creative industries nexus. Ms Hyslop was however noticeably less keen to pick up the gauntlet laid down by Blair Jenkins when he set out his vision for the future network’s role in Scottish life. In a speech redolent of Jeremy Issac’s famous 1979 McTaggart lecture (widely seen at the time as a job application to head up Channel 4 – in his case the pitch worked) Jenkins raised spirits with talk of how Scottish broadcasting had moved on from the ‘spiral of decline’ of just three years ago and was poised to enter a new future, one however that still had to be fought for as ‘nothing in life happens if you just cross your fingers and wait’.

Envisaging a service which would offer audiences the full spectrum of programme genres, provide new opportunities for programme makers and address social inclusion and the ‘digital deficit’, Jenkins reminded the gathering that our Parliament had unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission report over a year ago but that “consensus in Scottish politics is a rare thing and shouldnt be squandered”.

The choice of funding model – taking a slice of the proceeds from auctioning off released spectrum or top-slicing the BBC Licence fee – was up to Government but regardless of the route (the former being his clear preference) the commitment to fund a new service needed to be fought for and that was the implicit challenge to Fiona Hyslop.  Sadly it was one she wasnt prepared to take up, arguing (somewhat confusingly) that rather than argue over how the funding cake might in future be sliced up we should look to the growth of the Creative Industries as an economic goal and avoid too much emphasis on the cultural justification for public investment in a new broadcaster. This rather avoided the issue at hand, since the extra demand which a new channel could inject into the production sector and its wider creative industries supply chain can only be created by public investment in setting it up and a sustainable revenue model – precisely what Jenkins was calling on all present to sign up to. With advertising and subscription both effectively ruled out the only options left are the ones he set out which leaves the Scottish Government facing the question – will you vigorously pursue Westminster for a commitment to a Scottish Network, and the means to fund it, or not?

Jenkins is convinced that  such a commitment could be secured in this election year and the new channel launched in 2012. He could be right but it will take a concerted effort by not just the Culture Minister but a cross party coalition to keep such a prospect high up the political agenda. Judging by the evidence of today’s event, Blair may have raised the standard but the clans have yet to gather…


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