Independent production companies operating outside London face an uncertain future following a decision by Ofcom to allow ITV to halve its regional output, broadcasting experts have warned.
While the BBC is taking steps to improve its commitment to production companies outside the capital, Network Centre will be permitted to cut back its non-news regional programming from three hours a week to one and a half hours by next year, as part of the super-regulator’s public service review.
But Peter Williams, who runs production company Peter Williams Television – a key supplier to Meridian, ITV’s franchise in south east England – says that the changes will result in a “huge amount” of work being lost in the regions.
He said: “What about the independent companies which have built their business plans on the premise that they would be supplying to ITV’s regional broadcasters? I realise that strategic decisions will have to be made to allow for analogue switch off in 2012 but believe that Ofcom must be persuaded to delay the cuts for at least two or three years to give the independents time to draw breath.
“Ofcom says that it is going to look to the BBC to fulfil at least part of the gap in regional public service broadcasting but these cuts will attack the very roots of independents in the regions. Won’t it be ironic that when the BBC comes to ask the indies to make the programmes there are none left? Ofcom is running the risk of destroying the very companies they want to encourage.”
John McVay, chief executive of producers’ trade body Pact, added that the prospect of a “talent drain” to London would be a concern as a result of the changes.
Currently the 15 ITV regions are required as part of their licences to provide eight and a half hours of regional TV per week. Five of those hours are dedicated to news but the remaining three consist of other locally produced shows including arts programmes and documentaries.
Broadcasting union Bectu has berated Ofcom’s proposals saying they were “terrible news” and would spell the end of commercial television in the regions.
The 15 ITV regions are Anglia, Border, Central, Channel, Granada, Grampian, ITV West, ITV Wales, London, Meridian, Scottish, Tyne Tees, Ulster, West Country and Yorkshire.