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Britain’s Got Exec. Talent?

September 25th, 2009

Britain;s Got TalentBrit TV channels are going through a bit of an executive re-shuffle as Andy Duncan is clearing his desk at Channel Four and Michael Grade stubs-out his last Montecristo on the pavement outside ITV.  Careers at the top can have quite mundane endings.  Today, a surprising announcement reveals the sands continue to shift.

Both Andy Duncan and Michael Grade, have had tough jobs in the world of commercial TV, though their remits are simple, make programmes and make lots of money from advertising.  A bit like Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods, buy goods, sell them and make lots of money.  Harrods of course is renown for being an upmarket store, selling the best quality to discerning buyers.  Aha!  Sadly, both Andy and Michael failed to make the money for their businesses, indeed they leave them both £mm’s in the red.

The top job at the BBC, Director General, is a little more secure as there’s no requirement to make a profit, more, to spend the license payer’s money wisely, and the greatest thing they fear is criticism, which current DG Mark Thompson has received a lot of recently, some of it Royally.  But it’s hard to get fired at the BBC, it’s an institution, apocryphally they used to say the only grounds were not having a TV license and something I cant talk about on the premises.  At an institution you do the honourable thing, as ex-BBC One Controller, Peter Fincham, did over Queengate and went swiftly to become Director Of Television at ITV.

But as we the industry insiders discuss and report on the day-to-day developments of such shufflings, do we the viewers really notice any difference? Possibly only if Coronation Street gained or lost an episode.  As they used to say, ‘no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in’.

IAndy Duncannterestingly, before Andy Duncan’s stint at Channel Four, was Mark Thompson and his presence was certainly noticed.  Brookside was crushed into a single Saturday night omnibus, and he brought us The Osbornes, The Book Group and the sensationalist, Autopsy Live.  Ironically, a common occurrence in the TV business.

Duncan’s contribution over his five year tenure – on the good side, More4, 4Music, Channel 4+1 expanding Film4 and E4 and bringing them all to Freeview, and 4oD online.  On the bad sad – facing the flack from Shilpa Shetty’s BB controversy.  To be fair, when he joined he already saw a potential £100m funding hole on the horizon and looked at various means of filling it including asking for a share of BBC funding, but sadly…

Michael GradeMichael Grade has always been the most visible of TV Execs, red braces, red socks, big cigar.  The Harvey Weinstein of Brit TV, though nicer. Nephew of impresario Lew Grade and theatrical agent Bernard Delfont, he was never going to work in menswear.  Grade has been around, London Weekend, two stints at the BBC, one at Channel Four now ITV since 2007.  Biggest contributions – restructuring the once independent, regional channels under the ITV brand and building-up ITV2,3 and 4.   On his arrival, he was determined to improve drama output, but soon discovered the drop in advertising wouldn’t support this most expensive programming and ended up cutting The Royal, Heartbeat and Wire In The Blood.  Grade always blamed the lack of advertising and stifling regulations for the company’s dive into debt, but the soon to be introduced product placement, may well turn around the company’s fortunes, but sadly, he won’t be around to take advantage of it.

Tony BallSo who will be next?  For a long time the ITV job was tipped to go to the sinister looking, ex-CEO of BSkyB, Tony Ball.  Senior execs. were concerned about Ball’s appointment and urged the board to look further, not least because it’s said that he would have sold-off ITV Productions, producer of Corrie.  Ball was at BSkyB for four years since 1999 and while there, increased viewers to almost seven million and revenue, doubling to £3.19bn.  It may be this tough business background that was worrying the execs, or the fact that he takes conference calls sitting on his Ducati 966!  But he came at a price, a deal which at £30m over five years, ITV at lunchtime today,  announced was just too high. They wanted him, but not at this price, the spotlight was expected to swung over to Director Of Television….Peter Fincham.

Peter FinchamFincham, who brought us Britain’s Got Talent, was never a contender and was thought likely to leave ITV if Ball got the job, but during the failing negotiations with Ball,  suddenly became the stand-by candidate.  Cheaper than Ball but thought to be less business savvy.

But with today’s announcement from ITV comes the news that they’re seriously considering outside candidates.

However, front runner for the Channel Four job at, 13-8 on is….Peter Fincham.  Oh, to be so popular.  He heads a list of ten other prospects including Jana Bennett, at number 7, currently head of BBC Vision, who came a close second when Andy Duncan got the job.  Interestingly, if Ball doesn’t go to ITV, he’s also thought to be a candidate for Channel Four, albeit an outsider.

But will we notice any difference on our screens?  If Ball gets another job in British brodcasting, probably, wherever Fincham goes, probably not.  So long as Corrie is safe, we can relax.

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Ball’s Deal On The Table

September 22nd, 2009

Tony BallTony Ball, who brought BSkyB to financial success, is likely to become the new CEO of ailing ITV, it’s just the money to be sorted out.

The money, potentially £30m over five years,  could be the deal breaker and negotiations have been continuing for the last three weeks.  Tony Ball has been after the top job for most of this year and has actively campaigned shareholders to try for a boardroom majority, but when it didn’t work out he had to go through the normal recruitment process.

Now, it’s the shareholders who are holding out, wondering if he’s really worth such a large amount of cash, equivalent to that of a CEO of a major corporation or an international bank, when ITV is already on its uppers.  It’s been suggested that it may now be impossible to get ITV back to its former financial glory, so it may be more sensible to hire a cheaper CEO, to at least get the broadcaster to a more stable position.

If the board do decide the price isn’t right, another candidate, ITV’s Director Of Television, Peter Fincham, seems to be hovering over this job and that as replacement for Andy Duncan at Channel Four.

Another glimpse into the world of TV high flyers, and the search for the one.  But will we notice a difference in the programmes?  According to some, if Ball gets the job, we’ll certainly notice a difference in management style.

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Duncan To Depart C4

September 16th, 2009

Andy DuncanAndy Duncan, Channel Four’s Chief Executive for the last five years is to leave at the end of the year.

Said to be by mutual agreement between himself and the board, his future has been on the cards for some time since his efforts to secure funding to cover the channel’s expected £150m shortfall by 2012, has come to nothing, despite potential deals with Five and BBC Worldwide.

Duncan has had a frosty relationship with Luke Johnson, the channel’s chairman, for some time, who will also be leaving at the end of the year, so the search is already on for Duncan’s replacement.

Currently the spotlight swings between various contenders including, ITV’s Director Of Television, Peter Fincham, Four’s Director Of Content, Kevin Lygo and BBC’s Director of Vision Jana Bennett.

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Cameraman Is No Survivor

August 26th, 2009

Ed Wardle in YukonSince Sony gave us the Z1 and its successors, the job of cameraman on documentaries has changed and in some ways declined.  Now, the crew and participants can be one and the same person, opening the doors to some scary possibilities.

While some documentaries and reality shows are still shot by cameramen, others are shot by researchers and assistant producers.  When these small, easy to operate cameras first arrived, they were said to give documentary makers a less obtrusive footprint in the day-to-day lives of their subjects.  Now, the crew and subject are down to one person, who didn’t make it to the end of the run.

Cameraman Ed Wardle had shot in extreme environments, like the North Pole and Everest, so Channel Four chose him to make, and be in, the three month film about one man’s survival in 500,000 square miles of Canada’s Yukon wilderness.  Ed was looking forward to feasting on trout, grayling, hares and squirrels.  Sadly, Ed’s skills with technology weren’t matched by his skills with nature.

Camerman Ed WardleProbably for the first time, such a project was to truly show the loneliness and physical hardship of such an adventure.  No camera crew to chat to or to supply Mars bars when the squirrels got away.  He had no human contact, dropping-off tapes to be collected some time later, with technology to the fore in the form of GPS to track his progress, a satellite phone for an emergency and of course Twitter.

Seven weeks in though, people started getting worried, when he said his muscles were disappearing and they heard him talking to insects.  On the brink of starvation, having eaten mainly berries, he was airlifted home to Islington, to recover.

Channel Four have been criticised for trying to create sensationalist television and I’m sure this wasn’t the ending they hoped for, though they and nature watcher Ed, probably figured if you put a man with a camera into the remotest jungle, nature will do the rest.

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Channel Four Evicts The House

August 26th, 2009

Davina McCallChannel Four has finally had to give up flogging the increasingly failing Big Brother which will have its last series next year.

Despite its poor ratings, Channel Four claims that it still makes money, but after ten years it’s declining appeal has finally made the channel decide next year, will be the last time someone leaves the Big Brother house.

Good news for drama producers though as the axing of the show means the channel will have its ‘most fundamental creative overhaul’ in its 27 year history.  It took that long?  And this means £20m will be made available for drama from 2011 and 200 hours of primetime to fill. A big surprise for indie producers as it was only a few months ago that it was announced that the channel was planning to cut drama to enable it to get back on its financial feet.  Drama being the most expensive programming to make.

Now they’re thinking of event dramas like Red Riding, The Devil’s Whore, along with quirky returning series for the younger audience.

It’s 9.03pm. In the bedroom, reality is no more, as fiction once again enriches the lives of Channel Four viewers.  Davina folds-away her slinky black gloves and northern voice-overs become a thing of the past.

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3D For C4

August 20th, 2009

colorcode 3d pictureMy eyes are about to go funny. Channel Four is to run a week of programmes in 3D in the autumn which can be viewed on regular TV’s, but you will need the glasses…from Sainburys.

Way ahead of Sky’s plans to launch a 3D channel next year, Channel Four is to run a series of specially commissioned 3D shows and classic 3D movies at peak time.  Shows include a Derren Brown Magic Spectacular, a compilation of 3D clips from movies including Jaws 3D, topped-off with two sixty minute films, The Queen in 3D, featuring 3D newsreel footage of the coronation and a special, shot at the Garter Ceremony in June.

3D GlassesChannel Four are using an American 3D system, ColorCode, where the glasses have amber and blue filters, through which are viewed a fairly regular colour picture with minute variations giving depth and colour information to the eyes.  Watching it without glasses, you see a regular colour picture with slight fringing and more contrast.  Amazingly the system works as well on computers and even mobile phones!

Sainsbury’s will be giving out the free glasses a week before the fun begins.  Trick or Treat??

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Scotland’s Boom Time?

August 19th, 2009

New Digital TechnologyDespite the recent uncertainty about the re-commissioning of STV’s Taggart, and the potential glut of production crew this could create, one Scottish training organisation is creating new talent for what they expect to be the Scottish digital boom.

Glasgow based research and training charity, TRC Media – The Research Centre, have announced the six graduates who will take part in its seven week training placement scheme, to equip the six, the first of many, for what they believe will be a surge in demand for digital skills in television and the games industry.

TRC believe the only thing that could hold-up the growth in production in Scotland is the lack of people with the right skills, so each person will spend time at BBC Scotland, Channel Four, an indie production company, a games company and an ad agency.  TRC say they launched the programme after a great deal of consultation with the television production and games sector and will create a, ‘pipeline of talent with the right combination of digital skills, creativity and entrepreneurship’.

If they’re right about their predictions for the future demands of production skills in Scotland, things may look brighter for the experienced talent pool already there.

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No More News For More4

August 5th, 2009

Channel Four NewsCash strapped Channel Four has decided to drop the news coverage on its More4 channel and the Channel Four midday news spot, as a money saving measure.

Both the half-hour More4 news and the midday news are provided by ITN who are expecting to lose 20 of the 30 strong team who work on the programmes. It also puts the jobs of presenters Sarah Smith and Krishnan Guru-Murthy in jeopardy.  Channel Four have said they want to concentrate resources on the nightly flagship news programme and also increase the range of news they can offer digitally, while running a shorter midday bulletin.

At the same time, ITN has begun looking for voluntary redundancies across its 800 staff to ease the affect of Channel Four’s cuts and has started a 30 day consultation process across the company.

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Pact Says No To C4/C5 Marriage

May 21st, 2009

Friends posterIn a recent survey of indie producer members of PACT, on the proposed merger of Channel Four and Five, the majority response was that it would be bad news for business.  52% thought it would have an ‘adverse effect’ while 13% thought it would be ‘highly adverse’.  Their main worry was that it would,  ‘…lead to a further reduction in British programming’.

Of course this is really about where floundering Channel Four will go with it’s begging bowl and in this respect producers would prefer the Channel Four deal with BBC Worldwide.

Five is said to be puzzled at the result, as this would be the saviour of Channel Four but it looks like the producers just don’t want them to be friends.  Maybe that’s it?

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No More US Shows For Four

May 6th, 2009

desperate-housewives_625x352jpgChannel Four, home of the best in US shows including Desperate Housewives and Friends, is taking a No-profile at the May screenings of new shows for sale in LA.  In a bid soften its financial crisis to the tune of £80m, the channel has decided not to buy any new US series this year, having spent over £118m on last year’s imports.

Unlike ITV and the BBC, Channel Four doesn’t actually produce anything, but commissions production companies in the UK and buys ready made shows from international markets. Despite some of the huge hits they’ve had in the past,  they’ve decided this year,  it’s just window shopping.

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