Iseabail Mactaggart: Potential to drive domestic TV

SNP want more of BBC funding. Picture: Donald MacLeod
SNP want more of BBC funding. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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THURSDAY’S general election triggered an important moment for broadcast and television production in Scotland.

While the BBC’s charter renewal process will be primarily defined by the new Westminster dynamic, the Scottish Parliament will have a voice in that process for the first time, due to the Smith Commission provisions.

Companies should acknowledge, and move beyond, the London myopia

There may well be tensions, with the SNP having stated their ambition for Scotland to receive a greater share of BBC income of £100 million, and the Conservative Party having committed to “delivering value for money for the licence fee payer” through charter renewal review.

As well as charter renewal, broadcast and television production is under scrutiny in the UK as part of Ofcom’s assessment of the effectiveness of the public service broadcasting (PSB) system for the UK – ie BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

And the Scottish Parliament’s economy, energy and tourism committee has provided further focus again, with its recently published report on the economic impact of the creative industries. Its conclusions noted “a lack of strategy for supporting and growing the TV sector”.

This is a sector that is hugely crea-tive, with a wealth of talent. Res­earch* conducted last year, however, found that Scotland’s television production sector was poorly internationalised in comparison with the rest of the UK. Several factors contribute to this. When spending by the UK’s PSBs was reduced post-2008, many UK producers diversified.

The research suggests Scotland’s producers did so to a lesser degree, leaving them over-reliant on the UK PSBs. Without a strong domestic Scottish market, the UK-network quo-tas and targets struggle to strengthen the indigenous supply base. There are other barriers: Scotland’s production sector is dominated by micro-companies; this lack of scale makes it difficult to develop repertoire. Without such a portfolio, it is difficult to spread risk or internationalise.

Knowledge is also a problem: acq­uiring relevant market intelligence, experience, and the networks of con-nections essential in the creative industries have all been shown to be challenging. Partly because of the structure of the PSB-dominated UK market, there is a lack of market awareness, and thus less strategic pos­itioning, eg into genres with broader commercial potential.

The current corporate tax relief sys-tem also fails to encourage co-production with Scottish companies, unlike in Ireland, whose S481 tax relief is more generous than the UK’s, and can be further combined with incentives such as those offered by the Broadcast Authority of Ireland for high quality programmes on Irish culture, heritage and experience.

Scotland has a wealth of creative potential. The time is right to influ-ence these issues positively, and position the sector for growth. Scotland is ambitious for film. That will only be realised through the creation of a critical mass of domestic television production. There is existing expertise and levers: the Gaelic broadcast sector – estimated to be the source of 50 per cent of the volume of hours commissioned in Scotland for Scotland – is actively pursuing co-productions, and lateral partnerships within Scotland, the UK and across Europe.

With investment, format development could be undertaken concurrently in several languages in several territories, clearing the “proof of concept” hurdle required for commercial implementation. Companies should acknowledge, and move beyond, the London myopia: seek growth through secondary sales in other markets, act­ively build up lateral, international networks, actively acquire the market intelligence on genres and market, undertake co-productions, form collaborative alliances to mitigate against issues of size, and lobby for a tax reg­ime which facilitates growth of key genres that drive economic growth.

Imaginative, and not necessarily monolingual, partnerships can exploit the expertise, experience and opportunities that exist within the broadcast and production sector, to unlock growth that would accrue to all of Scotland. «