independent production


independent production
   Until the early 1980s, the British broadcasting system was dominated by integrated broadcasting companies, the BBC and the ITV companies. Within these companies, all the functions of production, commissioning and scheduling were undertaken. However, with the creation of Channel 4 in 1982, with no production base of its own and with a remit to encourage new voices, an independent production sector was born. This development was later reinforced with the requirement of the Broadcasting Act of 1990 for ITV and the BBC to use independent productions for 25 percent of their programmes. In the 1990s, a multifarious industrial structure appeared that included traditional broadcasters with their own in-house production facilities and independent production houses.
   The appearance of Channel 4 signalled the arrival of the publisher-commissioner broadcaster, a broadcaster without any production base of its own. Instead, it commissions original programmes from either independent producers or production units of other broadcasters, with commissions including single programmes, series, serials or films. Internally, Channel 4 employs a number of editors responsible for commissioning programmes for different areas, such as documentary, drama and entertainment. Once programmes are commissioned, the independent producer hires the required personnel and equipment to undertake the production. While the commissioning director might oversee some aspects of the production, the production company has a high degree of autonomy.
   In 1986, the Peacock Committee recommended that some competition should be introduced into BBC and ITV systems. This idea found political and ideological acceptance within the Conservative government of the time. The Broadcasting Act of 1990 introduced a requirement for 25 percent of the BBC and ITV programme output to be independent productions. In response, the BBC and ITV have introduced structural changes to allow access for independent producers to compete for commissions. Also with the ITV franchise round of 1992, four new broadcasters came into existence, all of which were publisher/commissioner broadcasters not unlike Channel 4. Arguments have been put for and against more independent production. On one hand, it allows more voices into the system than previously, it allows greater autonomy and encourages creativity, and it is more competitive and therefore is efficient. Detractors argue that it has led to a casualization of labour and that the critical creative mass that underpinned the excellence of the old system is being dissipated.
   Further reading
    Hood, S. (ed.) (1994) Behind the Screens: The Structure of British Television in the Nineties, London: Lawrence & Wishart.
   PAUL RIXON

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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