BBC Chief Warns UK Broadcasters Need To Find New Drama Partners As Netflix & Amazon Move Away From Co-Pro Market

BBC boss Tony Hall has warned that British broadcasters need to find new partners to co-fund high-end drama as the likes of Netflix and Amazon increasingly move away from scripted co-productions.

Hall, who is Director General of the BBC, made the warning while speaking to British politicians as part of a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee hearing in Salford, alongside Deputy Director General Anne Bulford.

“The issue is increasingly, whereas two or three years ago you could sell a great deal to Netflix and Amazon, they are investing less in us as broadcasters and we’re going to have to go our own way with people who think like us,” he said.

Hall highlighted Playground Entertainment’s Anthony Hopkins-fronted adaptation of King Lear [pictured] and Bad Wolf and New Line’s forthcoming eight-part drama His Dark Materials, which features stars including James McAvoy, Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The latter, which is written by Jack Thorne and directed by Tom Hooper, is co-funded by Anton Capital Entertainment with Endeavor Content co-repping U.S. rights, two relatively new partners for the BBC.

“[His Dark Materials] is expensive because of all of the computer graphics to make the demons. I was on set with them two weeks ago and I’m really pleased we’ve pulled off something there where the cost per episode is high. I don’t think it’s in the Netflix/Amazon territory but it’s really ambitious. All of us felt that was the sort of piece that the BBC should make given the nature of the book and the nature of who Phillip Pullman is and we’re showing ambition on that,” Hall added.

Bulford added, “The co-production market internationally carries its own challenges because the global SVOD players are increasingly seeking to launch on a global scale and therefore are looking for all rights in all territories and the ability to carve out a first window in the UK as part of those global deals reduces as that strategy progresses. We’re starting to see that. So, getting together the finance requires a different set of relationships and more work to go into that.”

Elsewhere during the nearly two-hour session, Hall and Bulford touched on a variety of topics including gender pay and the launch of a BritBox-style service in the UK and around the world. Responding to QI host Sandi Toksvig’s recent claim that she was paid 40% of what former host Stephen Fry was paid to host the same show, Hall said the “world has kind of changed” and that it was not an issue of gender, but related to the BBC’s attempts to reduce talent pay.

He said that it had reduced its “top talent bill” by 25% in five years. “One of the things we’ve been working on, it’s not been easy, is putting a framework of how we pay our top presenters. [We want to introduce] rationality and a proper code to understand why one job is worth more than another. We’re not quite there yet,” he added.

The former Royal Opera House boss admitted that the BBC had to recognize that it was not going to be able to attract presenters “at the mega-sums” and would do more to find the “next generation of talent” to host its shows. “Of course, we will lose some people and have lost some people, no doubt disclosure and pay has been a factor.”

He confirmed that the BBC had been in talks with ITV and Channel to launch a BritBox-style digital service in the UK that would house programmes not available on existing catch-up platforms. “We are talking with ITV and Channel 4 to see what else we can do together, I can’t tell you more but the more that Channel 4, ITV and ourselves can work to converse in what is an amazing ecology, we should do that. Britbox is growing very well, but we were talking about expanding that outside of the US. And I want us to do more inside the UK,” he said.

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