TV writers have expressed concern that they could lose up to 50% of their income when the BBC moves children’s content away from its terrestrial channels.
They have also warned that some of the UK’s best creative talent could turn their backs on the genre as a result.
Children’s content will move solely to digital channels CBeebies and CBBC some time during 2012, though the BBC has not confirmed when. Writers in the sector claim this will have a negative impact on their pay, as it will affect the agreement that the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has in place with the BBC.
Under this contract, a writer is entitled to an advance payment equal to 100% of their original fee, covering repeat screenings. However, the contract also states that for any programmes commissioned for channels other than BBC1 or BBC2 – as would be the case for children’s shows in future – the 100% advance would only be paid “on the first occasion the programme is transmitted on BBC1 or BBC2”. With no children’s shows planned for BBC1 and BBC2 in the future, writers claim they could lose this extra payment.
Paul Rose, who has written for shows such as My Parents are Aliens, told The Stage it is a “frightening situation to face”.
He said: “At this point in time I’m not sure what my options are other than to swallow it and hope that contract renegotiations provide some glimmer of hope. It could potentially cause such a significant reduction in my earnings that I will have no real choice but to start considering what those options may be. Obviously, there is the potential, indeed the probability, that if earnings really are cut in half, it may drive good writers away from kids’ TV.”
Writer Jayne Kirkham expressed concern about the quality of writing in future. She said the move would lead to “great savings for the Corporation” but added: “You know the cliche – pay peanuts and you’ll get monkeys.”
However, Writers’ Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett has moved to allay writers’ concerns. He said the BBC had assured the guild that the clause will not be operated until there has been a full renegotiation of fees and other terms for children’s TV scripts.
“I see this as a great opportunity for the guild to look at a real 21st century deal for children’s TV writers,” he said. “I personally don’t believe there will be anything like the 50% cuts to writers’ pay and my ambition is there will be no cuts at all.”
A BBC spokeswoman fell short of guaranteeing that the 100% advance would continue to be paid, but said: “We have given a commitment to writers’ representatives that there will be absolutely no changes to the way children’s writers are paid – including continuing with the advance payments – without full consultation, negotiation and agreement with the Writers’ Forum (which comprises the Personal Managers Association, the Writers’ Guild and the BBC).”