And finally - I'm guilty, Sir Trevor

Independent producers beware: the broadcasters are fighting back

In all businesses there are events that, in retrospect, you can see changed the world of that industry forever. Some of these are obvious at the moment they are happening, but the importance of others can often only be appreciated with the benefit of hindsight.

Looking back on my time as a broadcaster, the coming of Sky was probably the most important such instance, a moment when the status quo was changed for ever by the arrival of an outsider in the shape of Rupert Murdoch. More recently, the launch of Freeview was another historic moment, although its impact will never quite match that of the launch of Sky.

In terms of programming, the arrival of the independent sector which accompanied the launch of Channel 4 in 1982, followed, later that decade, by the Government insisting that all the traditional broadcasters must adhere to a 25-per-cent independent production quota, were also profound moments.

In the two decades since, the independent production sector has been remarkably successful in demanding, and getting, more from the broadcasters in terms of both output and the ownership of rights. The irony, of course, is that the independents have only achieved this with the help of intervention by politicians and regulators who, naively, still seem to believe that by supporting the independent sector they are supporting the "free market" and small independents.

But when media historians look back on this period I suspect they will see 2005 as the moment when the independent production sector in Britain went into decline after two decades of growth. This is an odd prediction, given the prices currently being paid on the stock market for independent production companies, but I see 2005 as the year when the broadcasters finally stood up to the regulators and said "enough is enough".

A few weeks back Ofcom produced a draft of a review of the independent production sector. It wasn't published but the main broadcasters were given a copy and asked for their views. When they saw it all hell broke loose. It suggested two big changes. First, that independent producers would own the UK rights to programmes immediately after they had been broadcast on the main terrestrial channels, instead of having to wait the five or seven years they have to at present. Second, that independent producers would own many new media rights - including video on demand.

Channel 4, Five, ITV and even the BBC protested to Ofcom in the strongest terms. If the proposals were implemented their future roles as broadcasters would be irrepairably damaged as television changed to an on-demand world. Ofcom withdrew the paper but I suspect the seeds have been sown for a broadcasters' fightback.

The truth is that the independent production sector in Britain has already got a better financial deal than independents almost anywhere else in the world, and, in the new world, this will not be sustainable.

But it only applies to traditional broadcasters. Sky and the myriad of channels available in the multi-channel world are not governed by the same rules. Sky One or Sky Sport do not have to broadcast 25-per-cent independent programmes or leave significant rights with an independent producer they fully fund a programme. And, after the digital switchover in 2012, ITV and Five will be unregulated in the same way. (In fact, with nearly 70 per cent of Britain already multi-channel, and Freeview boxes selling increasingly fast, both ITV and Five could walk away from their regulated status earlier than 2012.)

Add that to the understandable threats from Channel 4 to set up their own production business if the rights position becomes untenable, and you are left with the BBC. In a move to appeal to the politicians at a time of charter renewal the current BBC is planning to offer more programming to the independents. I would argue that this is a profound mistake. While it might curry favour with a few politicians it would undermine the BBC of the future, when multi-media rights will be all-important. I suspect the BBC will rein back its enthusiasm for more independent production once its new charter is approved.

You can predict what is going to happen to broadcasting in Britain by looking at the United States. There, broadcasters are virtually all producer-broadcasters who, while still buying from independents, increasingly own most of the back-end rights.

So Sir Trevor McDonald is no longer with us, as a newsreader that is, having broadcast his final bulletin on ITV on Friday night. Without doubt the outstanding newsreader of his generation, it is a great shame that Trevor's reputation has been tarnished in recent years through no fault of his own. It is difficult to remember now that, only six years ago, ITV's News at Ten, fronted by Trevor, was the number-one television news broadcast in Britain and that the BBC was struggling to keep up. Trevor's dominance changed from the moment ITV decided to move its main evening news bulletin away from the 10 o'clock slot, a move that even ITV now readily admits was a big mistake.

The BBC pinched the slot - I plead guilty to being, along with Mark Thompson, opportunistic - leaving ITV nowhere to go with their late night news. So in saying farewell to Trevor, let's remember the Nineties, when his presence dominated mainstream news in Britain, when the public loved him, and when he was the undisputed number one.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Guru Careers: Sales Director / Business Development Manager

£35 - 45K + COMMISSION (NEG): Guru Careers: A Sales Director / Business Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee