Lorraine Heggessey on Broadcasting

We're selling lots of programmes. But there's far more we should do

The dramatic increase in programme sales from the UK into foreign markets is a sign that the British television industry is in good creative health. Export figures released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport last week showed a rise of 21 per cent, up to £632m - £100m more than last year. This is great news for the industry and, ultimately, for the viewer.

Success breeds success, and I'm convinced that it can go much further than this. American broadcasters relied on the British for half of their top 12 entertainment hits last year, with shows as diverse as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Wife Swap and Supernanny. No wonder UK format sales are up 60 per cent. Increasingly good ratings here are seen as proof that a show will be a hit abroad.

The new terms of trade have undoubtedly helped to create the right kind of climate. Producers have woken up to the value of the rights they create. They are more demanding and want to see those rights fully exploited. Distributors have had to smarten up their act. New players have entered the game, providing useful competition for the established broadcaster-owned operators.

The days when a broadcaster could simply swallow up all the rights almost for nothing, and then sit on them, are hopefully a thing of the past. It was a terrible waste of potential and meant that there was not enough money going back into the television market, much of which could have been invested in development and new productions.

We need people in distribution and licensing who are as imaginative and adventurous as those in production. They must understand the international market, have great contacts and be able to push a sale aggressively.

We can learn a lot from the US. The American studios have bundled their programmes for years. For every Desperate Housewives, the broadcasters have had to find airtime for many other desperate programmes, some in the depths of the night or buried on a digital channel. Even when they are selling formats to be produced overseas, the Americans will often insist on selling the original series as part of the deal, as the American-based, British-born producer Mark Burnett did with the Donald Trump version of The Apprentice, for example.

It's not enough simply to sell the tape and the format. We need to think laterally and ambitiously. Even the most surprising series can lead to commercial success.

I remember when we launched Animal Hospital at the BBC, the production team was convinced that BBC Worldwide should launch a range of toys and vet dressing-up kits. We knew our own children had branched out from playing doctors and nurses into vets and pets. We pushed hard and eventually a creative executive took up the challenge. The result was a range of successful spin-offs, from plush toys to little plastic models in cereal packets. Each toy came with a heat-sensitive patch, and the warmth of a child's hand would "heal" the animal as they stroked it. I can hear even the most cynical reader say, "Aah"!

We need to learn to be as innovative as possible in creating successful brands out of hit series. One way of doing this is to have a fully integrated approach from the start. At talkbackThames, the company I run that is part of FremantleMedia, we have our own distribution and licensing divisions, and I have really seen the benefits of listening to our colleagues who understand the international market or the commercial potential of an idea. Increasingly, that will involve online, broadband or mobile exploitation, too.

There's one area where the UK lags behind - comedy and drama. Research by Oliver & Ohlbaum shows that whereas UK comedy and drama exports totalled £183m in 2004, British TV spent £273m on imports. Ricky Gervais has proven that the most idiosyncratic British comedy can translate into American, and there's even a French version of The Office on the way. Let's hope that next year, we've got a better story to tell for scripted programmes as well.

Poaching big names just doesn't work

We've been experiencing one of those periodic phases where there's been a massive game of musical chairs at the top of the television industry. These things are cyclical and it looks like the music has almost stopped, so hopefully there'll be some stability for a while.

Now I'm in the independent sector, I realise just how precarious the production business can be. There's nothing worse than being on the verge of clinching a commission when you suddenly hear your champion is departing. But why is it that some people can happily switch jobs and thrive, whereas other star performers flounder when they change employer?

I've just come back from a course at Harvard where a piece of research shed some light on this. It was carried out in investment banks where it's very easy to directly compare the results of fund managers before and after they change jobs. The findings were that stars rarely performed as well after they moved. The reason for this is that they are usually extremely dependent on the team around them (although being stars, they often fail to recognise this!). Removed from the people they had come to rely on, the stars found it very difficult to replicate the high performance that made them so desirable in the first place. The answer is - don't poach stars, poach high-performing teams. There's a lesson in there for the television industry.

Lorraine Heggessey was controller of BBC1 from 2000-2005, and is now chief executive of talkbackThames

Greg Dyke is away

world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice