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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 15:19 GMT
TV sector 'took eye off the ball'
Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

"Business as usual will not do."

That was the stark claim from the man tasked with analysing Scotland's broadcasting industry.

BBC Scotland headquarters
The BBC has promised more network commissions to Scotland

Blair Jenkins, the chair of the government-established Scottish Broadcasting Commission, has published the group's first report into the current state of the industry - and it makes for some gloomy reading.

It paints a picture of a sector without collective direction, which has problems holding onto its talent and where network TV chiefs think there is a lack of ideas.

One of the main obstacles is the number of programmes which TV networks commission from Scotland.

Television production north of the border employed 2,350 and was worth more than 111m in 2006. Less than half that figure were commissions from the main UK broadcasting networks.

According to industry regulator Ofcom, network production in Scotland fell from 6% of the UK total in 2004 to 3% in 2006.

The year 2006 was the one - the broadcasting commission said in its interim report - that marked a major point of decline for TV production in Scotland - but it said the warning signs were there for some time.

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Over the last few months, the broadcasting commission has been taking evidence from key industry players, from behind closed doors.

It has now published the transcripts from those sessions, and what has emerged is a mixed picture of attitudes to the Scottish sector.

ITV said it did not feel obliged to source any network programmes from Scotland. The company operates in a "free market" for ideas, but said Scottish producers were not succeeding in that context.

Commenting on Scotland, ITV boss Michael Grade said: "The brutal truth is that the ideas aren't here".

Michael Grade
Michael Grade raised concern about a lack of Scottish ideas

Channel 4 - whose biggest Scottish commission is the property programme Location, Location, Location - said there was no Scots company able to handle a returning drama series.

Channel 5, which has not given evidence to the commission, was not found to have a "significant proportion" of production activity in Scotland.

But it is not all bad.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson has announced a 9% target for network commissions from Scotland, worth an estimated 40-50m.

And the big UK channels are not against Scotland.

Channel 4 and ITV have both recognised that Scotland has lots of talent - but they point out that the number of sellers far exceeds the number of buyers.

It is, they say, a tough industry whether your production company is Scottish or not.

Recent milestone

The problem has been described as a chicken and egg situation.

Mr Jenkins recognises that Scotland has taken its eye off the ball - but similarly wants to see the so-called "M25 commissioners" being encouraged to widen their reach.

The broadcasting commission's next move is to canvass the views of the watching public, before publishing its final report in the summer.

Despite the concerns, it is worth noting one recent milestone. In January, BBC Drama commissioned, through BBC Scotland, a new eight-part peak-time drama set in Scotland from independent company Shed Productions.

And the title? Hope Springs. Perhaps the Scottish television industry hopes it can see it as a symbolic, as well as a practical, sign of things to come.

SEE ALSO
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Broadcasting 'highly centralised'
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