Trade threat to axe aid for 'Top Of The Pops'

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The Independent Culture
Top Of The Pops, the BBC's flagship pop music programme for more than 30 years, is now heavily subsidised by the record companies, The Independent has discovered.

Anger among record company executives over the BBC moving the programme from Thursdays to Fridays, where it is up against Coronation Street, has provoked them to speak for the first time about the extent to which the companies subsidise the programme.

And at least one company is threatening to withdraw its support if the corporation does not move the programme back to Thursdays. If the BBC does give in, it will be open to the accusation that the industry's financial support has played a part in the decision.

A senior record company executive said: "Everything you see on the set of Top Of The Pops apart from the audience and the cameras is supplied by the record companies - the artists, the backdrops, the lighting.

Paul Burger, chairman of Sony Music, revealed that Sony, whose roster includes Oasis, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen, is threatening to withdraw "support" because he thinks the programme might lose viewers. "Over the past year we have spent half a million pounds supporting TOTP, half of which is in setting up satellites and overseas transmissions to tie in with the programme," he said. "I don't intend to continue that level of support."

A spokesman for Virgin Records, which represents George Michael, said: "If TOTP wants George we would bring him over from America or wherever he happens to be. We have to pay for all the transport and would probably bring in a special set and lighting for George. It can easily cost thousands of pounds."

David Hughes, vice president of EMI, said record companies did not object to paying transport, accommodation and other costs to get their artists on "the best music programme around". But he added: "The other side of the coin is that the BBC expects those sorts of expenses to be paid by the record companies. It's not only getting the artists there. It's set- dressing and extra musicians and dancers.

"In the old days I never remember record companies flying people in. Everything was done in the studio and there were no videos or satellite links. This has really happened over the last 10 years."

The system leaves the smaller independent labels at a disadvantage. Paddy Prendergast, who co-runs the Grapevine label, said: "There are inequalities here. Given that the BBC is a public broadcasting service and Top Of The Pops is one of the biggest marketing opportunities, it would be nice if everyone had equal access to it, but the fact of the matter is we don't.

''If we were offered a spot on Top Of The Pops for Emmylou Harris [the American country singer] it would cost us pounds 20,000 to bring her and her band over and we would have to think, is it worth it?"

A BBC spokeswoman said the producer, Rik Blaxill, decided who appeared, and the programme had its own "dedicated" set and lights. "All or programmes are made and scheduled for our licence-payers and not to meet the aspirations of commercial interests," she said. "The editorial control rests entirely with the producer. Record companies have no editorial influence on Top of The Pops.

"We decide what artists we want and the record companies physically produce them. No money is given to the BBC."