London dominance restricts offscreen TV diversity, claims leading producer

Producer Cat Lewis said too many programmes were captured through a London lens. Photo: Shutterstock Producer Cat Lewis said too many programmes were captured through a London lens. Photo: Shutterstock
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A leading television producer has said TV is “out of touch with its audiences” because too many programmes are captured through a London lens.

Cat Lewis, chief executive of Manchester-based Nine Lives Media, is calling for TV regulator Ofcom to tighten its regulations on how it defines a programme made outside London.

Speaking during a panel on diversity off screen at a Policy-UK forum in London, she said: “TV is out of touch with its audiences because it is no longer being made by programme-makers all around the UK.

“Onscreen diversity is important, but so is offscreen diversity. All too often, the lives of people in the nations and regions have been captured through a London lens.

“To truly reflect our wonderful country, programme-makers at all levels should be from diverse backgrounds, and they should live in different parts of the country.”

Lewis argued that too little money is being spent beyond the M25, that there are too few TV jobs in the nations and regions, and there is a lack of TV commissioners based outside London.

She said: “TV is regulated to create jobs outside London by a quota system overseen by Ofcom. So what’s going wrong?

“Some programmes made under the out-of-London quota employ 50% of their staff from London, particularly in senior roles. These senior programme-makers are shipped around the country and put up in expensive hotels during the shoots.

“More junior roles are filled locally, but this isn’t enough to leave a legacy and a long-term impact on the economy.”

She added: “What is concerning is that this doesn’t break the code of the Ofcom regulation.”

Current Ofcom regulation dictates that 50% of production talent working on an out-of-London production can be based in the capital, while 30% of the budget can still be spent there too.

Lewis said this was “too weak” and called for Ofcom, which is currently reviewing the regulation, to tighten the requirement. She demanded that 80% of an out-of-London programme’s makers should be from the nations and regions and that 80% of the programme’s budget is spent outside the capital.

Equity has previously campaigned for more television productions to be made regionally and to make use of regional talent. The union has also campaigned in the past for Ofcom to tighten its regulations on what constitutes out-of-London work.

In May this year, the union condemned regional theatres for holding auditions and rehearsals in London, arguing that this feeds a London-centric economy.