Alex Graham On Broadcasting

You thought 'Big Brother' was just a show? Wait for the BB channel
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Charles Allen ought to buy Kevin Lygo and Luke Johnson a big drink. Their histrionic reaction to his MacTaggart lecture merely served to give his misguided attack on Channel 4 more publicity - and credibility - than it deserved. The problem is that - if their boycott of the MacTaggart dinner at Edinburgh is anything to go by - they won't turn up.

Which is a shame, because they have more in common than they think. ITV and Channel 4 are wrestling with what it means to be a channel brand in a multi-channel world, where programmes are becoming more powerful than the networks that broadcast them.

Take Deal Or No Deal. Finding an ITV executive who will admit to turning it down is almost as difficult as figuring out the point of the game. But there's no arguing with its impact.

Even the BBC is not immune. Not only does it compete fiercely with its commercial rivals, spending £6m a year on the brand that is Jonathan Ross, but BBC channel controllers have taken to stealing shows from one another. At Edinburgh, the BBC announced that The Apprentice would be moving from BBC2 to BBC1, following the successful transfer of my own company's Who Do You Think You Are?.

What makes this interesting is that digital technology is blurring the traditional boundaries between programmes and networks, between producers and broadcasters. Until now, producers have had to rely on a few powerful broadcasters to deliver their programmes to the audiences who watch them.

But that's about to change. For the first time, digital technology allows producers to deliver their programmes directly to the viewers. The recent new media rights deals guarantee terrestrial broadcasters first dibs at programmes they have funded. But as a quid pro quo, programming will now be released to secondary channels and video-on-demand platforms within months and viewers will be able to buy programmes (via sites like Google and iTunes), sometimes within days of the first transmission.

As a result, many producers are already exploring the possibility of digital distribution. Some are even thinking about becoming broadcasters. Next time you are scrolling through your electronic programme guide (EPG), check out channel 285. Branded The Baby Channel, most of the schedule is taken up with the predictable mix of child-rearing advice. But between 10pm and 11pm the channel offers Reality Hour ("a chance to see some of the best documentaries in recent years".)

Keen-eyed viewers will spot that all the shows in Reality Hour are made by one company - RDF. Current regulations mean that RDF can't own more than 25 per cent of the channel without losing its status as an independent, but its minority stake is a toe in the water, a chance to grasp the economics of broadcasting.

Of course, producers won't all become broadcasters overnight. But the very existence of an alternative strengthens the producer's bargaining power. In all the Edinburgh bitching, the one show no one wanted to argue about was Big Brother. It's an open secret that ITV executives are debating bidding for the show, and Roger Parry (one of several high-profile candidates for Charles Allen's job) said last week that BB would be a valuable addition to ITV's digital channels.

But Channel 4 can't afford to lose the show. It's not just the elusive 16- to 34-year-olds who are happy to spend three months peering into the narcissistic world of the Big Brother house; it's the impact the show has on the rest of the schedule. One statistic drives the point home; in Big Brother's final week on air, Channel 4's primetime share was 12 per cent. One week later it had collapsed to 7.5 per cent.

But suppose neither channel gets it. Suppose RTL, the owner of Five and increasingly desperate about that channel's collapsing audience share (last week it trailed behind ITV2) decides to sell the network to Endemol. BB - running twice a year - could drive the growth in share that Five is desperate for. And it's not the only Endemol show with that kind of power. What do you think? Deal or no deal?

Or Endemol could buy a suite of digital channels and dedicate one to 24-hour Big Brother, and it would instantly become one of the most recognisable channels on the EPG.

I suspect the most likely scenario is that BB will end up on Channel 4 again. But Endemol is in a powerful position. It's not just a financial conversation; Endemol will be able to exert control over how Channel 4 positions and markets the show, in effect becoming co-broadcasters.

Of course, traditional broadcasters will still have a role. But their place in the value chain is no longer guaranteed. Producers with successful shows will increasingly demand that broadcasters add value to their shows, not just through better prices but better slots, longer commissions and higher marketing budgets. Or they will go elsewhere.

Alex Graham is chief executive of the independent producer Wall to Wall and is chair of Pact, the trade association that represents the commercial interests of the independent film and television sector

Here's to independents' day in Cannes show

Summer's over; there's a chill in the air. It must be time for MIPCOM, the twice-yearly market held in Cannes, which is the closest thing television has to the Ideal Home Show. Until recently, most independent producers were excluded. This was partly because the broadcasters took their programme rights, leaving them with nothing to sell, and partly because the cost of having a stand at the market was prohibitive for all but the biggest companies.

But this year Shaun Woodward, minister in the Department for Culture, will officially open the Indies pavilion at Cannes. Organised by Pact, funded mainly by regional development bodies, the pavilion will be home to more than 30 UK production companies. You won't find Endemol or All3Media hanging out there, but you will find a whole range of dynamic producers from Bristol-based Steve Humphries' Testimony Films to John Archer's Hopscotch, based in Glasgow.

The pavilion is not only living proof of the depth of talent in the UK independent sector; it also gives the lie to the suggestion that the new terms of trade have only benefited the so-called super-indies. Many of the companies on the pavilion will be selling their shows internationally for the first time and developing valuable new sources of revenue with which to develop their businesses - and the next hit show.

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