ITV is required by the government to spend at least half of its budget on productions outside the M25, but figures released last week by Ofcom revealed that the network has fallen short at 44 percent last year and 46 percent in 2006.
With its production budget understood to be valued at around £1bn, the cost of ITV’s failure to hit its targets has cost the regional industry a combined total of £100m over the last two years.
“It is something that Ofcom is taking very seriously and we are looking at what action should be taken,” stated the watchdog’s market research director, James Thickett.
Ofcom is refusing to divulge the action it plans to take, but Thickett said it “could potentially include fines”.
But ITV perhaps have reason to feel aggrieved. Its 50 percent quota – formed, says an insider, as a result of ITV’s more comprehensive presence in the regions in years gone by – is considerably higher than the 30 percent quota set for the BBC and Channel 4 and 10 percent target for Five, all of which were met or exceeded by the respective broadcasters.
ITV regional director David Croft was unavailable when called by The Drum, but the broadcaster’s media team released the following press statement:
“ITV did meet the required volume of out-of-London production in 2007. However, we accept that the quota in terms of value was not achieved during this period.”
“We recognise that we must comply with these challenging obligations and we will be taking the necessary steps to meet the quota in 2008.
“ITV is committed to a diversity of production and set up the Nations & Regions Production Fund in 2005 to encourage commissions from producers based outside of London.”
Phrases like “must comply” and “challenging obligations” may not be welcomed by production teams in key centres outside the capital, but sources within ITV are maintaining its commitment to the regions by claiming significant spend occurs across each of its filming sites. While programmes such as Doc Martin, Kingdom and Lewis are filmed in Cornwall, Norfolk and Oxfordshire, respectively, they don’t contribute to the quota set for the firm due to the production teams that each show uses.
It has led to calls from some quarters for the level and criteria used by Ofcom in is assessments to be reconsidered, although any changes are unlikely to be made for 2008, leaving the broadcaster with the challenge of making changes to its production policy.
To make matters worse, ITV’s responsibility to the regions seemingly took another step backwards last week when it announced plans to make 89 job cuts in its two production centres in Leeds and Manchester. The decision has seen the firm come under fire from broadcasting union Bectu, which told the media that Grade’s vow to increase the levels of in-house production ITV used were not succeeding.
“What is clear is that the company’s turnaround plan is failing,” said Bectu’s David Beevers. “The five-year plan promised acquisitions and greater commissioning power to re-establish ITV’s network presence. Those objectives are not being met so the company reaches for its most cowardly weapon, the P45.”
In a move to explain the changes, a spokesperson said: “ITV has briefed employees on the second phase of proposals affecting staff working within the Northern Resources group in Manchester and Leeds - following a first stage that has already resulted in a management restructure.
“Technological advances in production techniques combined with a slow down in studio commissions means that the level of resources staff in Manchester and Leeds is higher than required for the business levels forecast.
“As part of the five year turnaround plan, ITV is reviewing all areas of the business to ensure that the company is ready to meet the challenges of the digital age.”
What this will mean for the regions remains to be seen.