ITV has complained to MPs that the BBC is drawing on the programme formats of its commercial rivals for ideas, instead of making original shows.
In a stinging attack submitted to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into the future of the BBC, ITV has questioned why the corporation commissioned the global show The Voice, which originated in Holland, and accuses it of a lack of “distinctiveness or innovation” in its schedules.
“The BBC’s pursuit of audience share regardless of distinctiveness or innovation has been evident where the BBC has rushed to commission or produce almost identical programmes to those by ITV, and then has scheduled them against ITV’s planned transmissions, on one occasion forcing ITV to reschedule to avoid serious commercial damage,” it complains.
“In addition to this we can see no obvious justification for the BBC commissioning existing formats such as The Voice for the UK audience, just as the BBC has recognised that there is nothing particularly distinctive about simply acquiring US content.”
ITV also accuses the BBC of missing an opportunity to innovate when it dropped children’s programmes from its afternoon schedule last year.
“Instead the BBC has primarily sought to increase the audience share of the channel by commissioning further large blocks of factual entertainment including Flog It!, Escape to the Country and Bargain Hunt – shows that originated in the early 2000s,” says ITV.
“Consequently, BBC1’s daytime audience share has grown since it removed children’s programming from the schedule, now at 20.8 per cent, compared to 18.5 per cent in 2012 but without much obvious attempt to deliver innovation or distinctiveness.”
The BBC responded to ITV’s criticism in a statement which said: “Research shows that not only is there strong public support for the BBC showing a wide range of content and funded by the licence fee, but also that in countries where public service broadcasting is strong, commercial broadcasting is also strong.”
ITV’s rebuke is one of many from a wide range of organisations calling for changes at the BBC in more than 70 written submissions to the committee.
British Naturism wants to see less “prudishness” at the BBC. “It is not coincidence that the more prudish western countries, of which the UK is one, have body attitude related outcomes that are appalling compared to those countries with more wholesome attitudes,” it said, complaining about the historically inaccurate addition of clothing in certain scenes in Andrew Marr’s History of the World series.
Equity, the actors’ union, complains of the effect of cuts on the BBC’s drama output. “Cuts have already led to the end of original drama on BBC4 and a decline in radio drama, in which the UK leads the world.”
Directors UK, which represents some of the biggest names in British filmmaking, called on the BBC to increase the wages of freelance directors and to “manage and eradicate the culture of micro-management of programme production which has taken root and is still prevalent”.
RadioCentre, which represents much of the commercial radio sector, complains that “the BBC has explicitly chosen to use its vastly greater spending power to grow audience of its flagship national music services Radio 1 and Radio 2 rather than invest in content which does more to deliver distinctive public service output”.
The Scottish Newspaper Society rails against the BBC’s impact on its business models, notably in the Northern Isles. “In both Orkney and Shetland, the BBC has a dedicated radio station but the operations are not limited to broadcast or indeed on its own digital platforms. With the use of social media like Facebook, the BBC is now publishing material which previously would have been the preserve of the local Press, The Orcadian and The Shetland Times.”
But other organisations, from the Musicians’ Union to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, praise the BBC for the role it plays in British life.
The contributions also include many submissions from individuals. Some, such as Raymond Bona, complain of “flagrant” bias and say the BBC should be called the “Labour Broadcasting Corporation”. Others, such as Rory Hegarty, protest that the BBC’s coverage of the last election was “astonishingly pro-Conservative”.
Phil Redmond, creator of former Channel 4 soap Brookside, says the BBC must adapt its Reithian values of “educate, inform and entertain” for the Internet age. “The digital mantra should be to ‘inform, entertain and connect’.”
Complaints, collected: What the BBC's rivals really hate
ITV complains that the show, which originated in Holland and is shown in more than 40 territories, is not the kind of format which the BBC should be spending licence fee money on. “We can see no obvious justification for the BBC commissioning existing formats such as The Voice for the UK audience,” the commercial broadcaster told MPs.
Andrew Marr’s History of the World
The former BBC political editor’s magnum opus for BBC1 has fallen foul of British Naturism for its “systematic falsification of history” by showing native people emerging from forests wearing clothes. The BBC told the society that it had covered its actors up in order not to offend “the sensitivities of the widest possible world audience”.
According to Classic FM, the BBC station has looked to its commercial rivals for programme ideas, such as a CD of the Week, an album chart and a film music show. “There has been a creeping popularisation of BBC Radio 3’s output over the past few years, with the effect that the clear gap between it and Classic FM has been gradually eroded,” it moaned.