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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
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

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Guru Careers: Business Analyst / Digital Business Analyst

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Analyst / Digital Bus...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power