Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Make good programmes
September 12, 2012 12:36 AM   Subscribe

Armando Iannucci's Bafta lecture 2012 - In which the creator of The Thick Of It argues that the BBC should be more aggressive, fight back against critics in the press and goverment, be more like HBO than committee-driven American network TV, and that if as James Murdoch says the only reliable, durable guarantor of independence is profit then the only guarantor of profit is independance.
posted by Artw (41 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
He's right! Good for him. The BBC may have its flaws, but overall it's a national treasure that does some things incredibly well. The nature programs, the camera work during the Olympics, the sheer ambition of something like DOCTOR WHO at its best: these are fantastic things.

The sort of people who are calling for it to be cut back or destroyed, on the other hand, are a very good example of all that is wrong with the world: an alliance of moralising ignorant bigots, MBA-ideology driven buffoons and horribly corrupt propagandists. "Conservatives" of the modern, debased variety. Anyone who lets that sort of person near power over anything, given modern history, is a fool.

Plus, Iannucci's funny. That helps.
posted by lucien_reeve at 1:07 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


then the only guarantor of profit is independance.

Doesn't Fox News show otherwise?
posted by Gyan at 1:08 AM on September 12, 2012


Interesting read in the context of his past work. If you look back at programs like Time Trumpet and his radio and television collaborations with Chris Morris, the core of it has been criticism of the media. It's interesting to see him shift from seeing the public media as presenting itself a mighty, god-like, infallible authority to seeing one that has made itself ineffectual and passive in the face of increasing, privatization-inspired cutbacks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:10 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


The BBC is, in my view, a very valuable establishment indeed. Its nature programmes are like, crazy, crazy good, and with such wonderful camera work. And it's not just that and Doctor Who - Sherlock, and John Finnemore and Radio 3! And I imagine its programming generates a lot of goodwill in the rest of the world; for example, I believe Sherlock and Doctor Who have made the UK more than that rainy, dingy place your parents would like you to get your degree from, at least in my own circle of friends.
posted by undue influence at 1:54 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, but the problem is that after most of a decade living in that rainy, dingy place, you get Stockholm Syndrome and end up missing it when you move away. Humans are weird.
posted by Zarkonnen at 1:56 AM on September 12, 2012


I've never heard of him before, but I find his ideas interesting.
I always disliked the idea that the BBC should be split the way it has been suggested.

BBC World Service is by no means perfect (but what news service is?) but I love the bloody thing.
It's nigh on unique.

On the other hand I look in abject horror at stuff like Channel 4 puts out.
posted by Mezentian at 2:08 AM on September 12, 2012


"Governments whether right or left have become commissioners in chief, nudging and cajoling networks into preferred business models without the slightest sensitivity or awareness of what the public wants or the TV industry is capable of," said Iannucci.

Another elitist snob who just wants the public to hand their money over to him and not ask any questions or attempt to exert any influence on him or tell him what to do with it. It must be terrible for this erudite chap to have to deal with the riffraff who provide his coin.

I suppose it is a sort of egalitarian triumph in the UK that the attitude of royalty isn't just confined to the royal family.
posted by three blind mice at 2:52 AM on September 12, 2012


> I've never heard of him before, but I find his ideas interesting.

Fairly legendary over here, for involvement with pretty much every successful UK comedy for the last 20-odd years, including The Day Today, Brass Eye, The Thick Of It, the list goes on.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:11 AM on September 12, 2012


Another elitist snob who just wants the public to hand their money over to him and not ask any questions or attempt to exert any influence on him or tell him what to do with it. It must be terrible for this erudite chap to have to deal with the riffraff who provide his coin.

He's not paid by politicians and doesn't want to be accountable to them. He's paid by the public via licence fee. He's arguing the BBC should do more of what the public - who tend to love the BBC - not the politicians want.

In short: you've got this ass backwards.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:15 AM on September 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


Three Blind Mice - you have no idea how seriously the BBC takes the opinions of its viewers and listeners. You will get a lot further with a complaint as a member of the public with the BBC - going up all the way to the governing board if you insist - than with any commercial organisation.

There's a lot wrong with the BBC's bureaucracy, which can be labyrinthine and seemingly designed to stop programmes getting made in a huge number of engaging ways, and some of its HR practices are abhorrent. But it has a corporate sense of responsibility towards the public which is far closer to that of the NHS than that of most other broadcasters.
posted by Devonian at 3:20 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is this where we talk about how the newest season of Doctor Who is starting off quite weakly?

I love the BBC, but it must be admitted that HBO doesn't have the power to tax citizens directly. The license fee is A LOT of money, even considering the quality of the programming.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:52 AM on September 12, 2012


The license fee is A LOT of money

It works out at about forty pence a day per licence-fee payer. I think that's a price worth paying for a publicly-funded, publicly-accountable multimedia broadcasting system that supplies credible news, high quality television independent of commercial pressure, local, national, and international radio, and - through Comic Relief, Children in Need, the Radio 4 Appeal, etc - does more to encourage philanthropy than any other secular institution in the country.
posted by bebrogued at 5:41 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The license fee is a fraction of the cost of a Sky subscription, for example. And more importantly, doesn't line the coffers of an institutionally criminal organisation. The other Sky lie is about where the money goes; nearly all of it leaves the country immediately, whereas BBC revenue at least goes towards increasing domestic and national production and workers.

As you were!
posted by davemee at 5:51 AM on September 12, 2012


I'm sorry if that last comment sounded pompous, and it wasn't meant in the slightest as a put down of anotherpanacea, it's just that Ianucci's right, and it's an important argument to make while commercial media conglomerates (most obviously Murdoch, but also the Mail and - sotto voce - the Guardian) unceasingly try to pretend that the BBC is an expensive and inefficient British version of HBO. It's much more than that.
posted by bebrogued at 5:53 AM on September 12, 2012


Forty pence a day!

I would pay that just for the Cbeebies channel.

On the BBC, for every Clarkson there is an Attenborough, for every Paxman there is a Vine, and for every Dimbleby there is a Dimbleby (although it irks me that Kelvin Mackenzie gets so many appearance fees).

I'm proud of the BBC.
posted by Shave at 5:58 AM on September 12, 2012


Is this where we talk about how the newest season of Doctor Who is starting off quite weakly?

Probably best confined to this thread.
posted by Artw at 6:47 AM on September 12, 2012


It must be terrible for this erudite chap to have to deal with the riffraff who provide his coin.

This is just such an odd take on Armando Iannucci that it's hard to know where to start. I mean, he's erudite, I guess, although the pejorative overtones are unhelpful. But he deals with the "riffraff" all the time. He's on Twitter, for one. It's no good to someone in comedy to fall out of touch with what makes people laugh.
posted by rory at 7:02 AM on September 12, 2012


Forty pence a day!

That's almost $2! Because of the inflation. And the immigrants. And the falling house prices!

/Daily Mail
posted by chavenet at 7:06 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


How much does it cost per minute? These games with numbers are fun, but they don't clarify much. It's £145 per year. That's basically $20/month US. For that price, I get Amazon Prime and have enough left over to buy all the HBO and BBC shows I want. I'm happy to be subsidized by British fee-payers, but I can certainly see why they'd rather not be paying for my Yankee entertainments.

I love the BBC, but it's not a cheap service. Just because it's a small boondoggle doesn't mean it's not a boondoggle.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:13 AM on September 12, 2012


I've never heard of him before, but I find his ideas interesting.

The Thick of It is pretty goddamn amazing.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:29 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The BBC also has Feedback on Radio 4 which regularly interviews managerial types within the BBC and asks them unpleasant questions. It's very similar to the readers' editor idea some newspapers adopt. I can't imagine any commercial broadcaster doing that.

I know some people who work for BBC R&D and while I don't always feel that what they are doing is worth spending license fee payers' money on (or that they are doing it in as transparent a way as possible), I am comfortable that in the grand scheme of things the BBC is a tight ship that responds to what its audience wants while staying in the Reithian tradition.

also, Metafilter: It was like a fucking Will Self lecture
posted by Talkie Toaster at 7:34 AM on September 12, 2012


I would go so far as to argue that Montesquieu was wrong, and the good governance of a (modern) nation relies on a separation of powers in four parts, not three: a parliament to make laws, an executive to carry them out, a judiciary to decide on disputes under laws, and an independent, publically-funded communications authority to report and criticise (and entertain). It is not necessary to entrench the independence of BBC Trustees or Directors-General, but the BBC should have sufficient independence of mind to serve the public, not the executive. The British should, therefore, look on the institution of the BBC as a bulwark of freedom and as a (model) modern and fundamentally democratic institution. Also, when Matt Smith's Doctor dies, wouldn't it make sense to vote #1 quidnunc kid for new Time Lord? I'm just putting that out there. That fucking bow-tie will be the first to go, and Rory will not be far behind. So for those sensible constitutional and aesthetic reasons please vote #1 quidnunc kid in November.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:56 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm a curmudgeon sometimes, but Armando Iannucci is somebody to look up to, not to emptily criticize. He's consistently funny, and not only that, his comedy is biting and thoughtful. I'm too young to have understood all the humor of The Day Today when it originally aired, but him and Chris Morris have shaped satire for the last 20 years.

The BBC is an interesting institution. I don't know if I fully agree with how it is funded, but it's undeniably better quality than commercial broadcasters, and a great boon to our country. Given its late overseas success, I hope it can work its way free of dependence on the license fee, and stop being a political football. The Conservatives call it for being too Labour, and Labour call it for being too Conservative, and every politician thinks they should have a hand in it.
posted by Jehan at 8:07 AM on September 12, 2012


I wish the BBC made as good dramas as HBO does... it did once but that's a long long time ago now

Taking the gong was bad enough but I have to condemn Iannucci forever for voting Lib Dem
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:11 AM on September 12, 2012


The comparison to HBO is bunkem as looks it looks at the Beeb through the googles of a 25-35 year old with disposable income who only enjoys hip high quality dramas and box sets.

Your 145 quid gets you 8 mains channels, plus 12 local subdivisions for regional news and programming, 59 radio stations. Virtually all the content is original, many of the outlets are 24 hours and all with no commercials. Therese also huge swaths of educational programming on during the day used by schools. It's a bargain. No free market would produce the glorious One Man And His Dog. For every Doctor Who there's an obscure local program with a fervent cult following that could never in a million years be exported.

The Beeb is a shining example of the state doing things the private sector can't do because they have to cater to base instincts and return money to shareholders rather than reinvest. There's also the NHS thing which is sort of the same...
posted by Damienmce at 8:24 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


The licence fee is worth it just for being able to watch programmes and films without FUCKING INCESSANT ADS.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:29 AM on September 12, 2012


Or indeed ANY FUCKING ADS AT ALL.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:29 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most Radio 4 listeners think it is worth the licence fee alone.

My Sky subscription costs me £50 a month because there are sports I want to watch. There are ads. I like watching some of the imported US dramas. Sky has revolutionised and improved sports coverage. It now makes some scent original shows. But it comes at a price.

The BBC costs £12 a month, for which I get my go to news website, the radio station I wake up to and the different one I listen to during the day. I get original drama and comedy. I get a news provider that is earnestly independent to a fault, who agonises over journalistic ethics and who strives for originality. Who raises the bar for commercial channels.

The BBC is a constant target for the hard line right in the Tory party, who have never forgiven it for not becoming a full bore propaganda organ during the Falklands War. And who know that a media landscape with no BBC would be a worse place for most but a better place for large vested interests. What is interesting is how much the BBC clashed with Blair's government, an equal opportunity impediment to political bullshit. Blair engineered the farce that was the Hutton Enquiry that led to the BBC being forced onto the back foot for calling Blair's bluff. So, on the back of longstanding shifts of production money and expertise to the private sector thanks to John Birt's initiatives, this government and successive governments know they have the BBC by the balls.

They control the licence fee as part of the Charter negotiations. If the BBC becomes more commercial it risks inevitable complaints that it's muscling into commercial territory. This is a standard complaint about the News website. If the BBC doesn't keep it's ratings it's an anachronism. Out of touch. Should be broken up and sold to people who can do the job properly.

The BBC needs people like Iannucci to keep reminding - as if Leveson hasn't - what the public stand to lose if they let politicians hold out our media space and sell it to the highest bidder.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:15 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Americans who purchase their television piecemeal don't watch ads, either. And we get more that we like, for less.

For every Doctor Who there's an obscure local program with a fervent cult following that could never in a million years be exported.

This is the heart of the matter: bundling versus a-la-carte. But notice it's quite possible to bundle without taxing power: for-profit cable companies do it in the US. Even individual channels, like HBO, have both shows I want to watch and shows I don't. That's bundling; it makes perfect sense to wish for dis-aggregation, which is what I do: I only watch the things I want.

Comparing this to social insurance is a pretty abusive analogy. Making sure people with rare and expensive diseases don't die is a little bit different from making sure that enthusiasts can watch sheepdog trials.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:23 AM on September 12, 2012


He's not paid by politicians and doesn't want to be accountable to them. He's paid by the public via licence fee. He's arguing the BBC should do more of what the public - who tend to love the BBC - not the politicians want.

Except the BBC has been co-opted by business minded TV people largely due to the revolving door between commercial and public broadcasting in the UK. When you rotate these types in and out all the time eventually you become homogeneous. BBC execs are now obsessing with the same targets as commercial broadcasters and are caving in on rights issues with television producers even though they are the biggest game in town.

The BBC is brilliant but is a fading brilliance. Not because of government interference but because of the creeping commercialization. I'd like the BBC to fight back but on entirely different fronts. Shows produced for the BBC should be free to the world. It would be the best force in the world for promoting British and western values. Instead they are locking it down and making it unavailable except to those who pay. The BBC should be platform agnostic instead they are full of corporate partners and approved manufactures and selected distribution channels.

I actually cancelled my TV licence about 4 years into my 7 year UK stay not because I didn't believe in the BBC but because they actively and deliberately made it impossible for me to watch it on the open source media setup I had at the time. Technically, I never had to pay it since I never watched live broadcasts of TV (The license fee is just for live broadcast and not time delayed like the iPlayer ) but I still did because I believed in them right up until they became just too aggressively anti-me for not owning an iSomething.
posted by srboisvert at 10:37 AM on September 12, 2012


Americans who purchase their television piecemeal don't watch ads, either. And we get more that we like, for less.

I don't believe that's actually the case: "for less". HBO, Showtime and Starz are around $14 a month each, on top of mandatory cable subscription. HBO Go isn't available OTT. You can wait until the shows are available for DLTO (or rent) of course but then that's an apples to oranges comparison and would be more expensive depending on how many shows you want to watch. (Or are you referring to services such as Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime and Netflix?)

And of course that's only television. The BBC offers radio, including the very best station in the world (Radio 4) and web.

Sure, it is a bundle. But it's a cheap bundle, all things considered. It could be priced a la carte or per view but the majority of the public embrace it as it is.
posted by NailsTheCat at 10:40 AM on September 12, 2012


I don't believe that's actually the case: "for less".

You believe incorrectly. I spend much less than £145/annually. And I get a lot of things that aren't available through the BBC for that, as well.

I love the BBC; I just think it's overpriced. They're both possible.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:57 AM on September 12, 2012


I spend much less than £145/annually.

Care to explain what and how? My DirecTV bill is way more expensive than the BBC, which is ~$20 a month. I have Netflix and Amazon Prime too but they are available normally only after original broadcast and hence falls under apples to oranges. I don't have a Roku box so maybe it's that you're using?
posted by NailsTheCat at 11:09 AM on September 12, 2012


I get Amazon Prime and have enough left over to buy all the HBO and BBC shows I want. I'm not sure why that's not apples-to-apples, or better. It is cheaper, and I get to watch at my convenience. I'm not watching anything where live tv matters (i.e. sports) and I wouldn't want to subsidize someone who was.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:55 AM on September 12, 2012


I love the BBC; I just think it's overpriced. They're both possible.

Eh, that's entirely fair. However, by paying the license fee we don't just buy the content, we own the content provider. It's ours in a way that ITV, Five, Sky, just aren't. (Channel 4's a 50% state / 50% commercial hybrid.)

Except the BBC has been co-opted by business minded TV people largely due to the revolving door between commercial and public broadcasting in the UK. When you rotate these types in and out all the time eventually you become homogeneous. BBC execs are now obsessing with the same targets as commercial broadcasters and are caving in on rights issues with television producers even though they are the biggest game in town.

Yeah, this is the real nub of the problem. Speak to programme makers (the inhouse ones, that is) or the people actually creating technologies like the iPlayer, and it's hard not to hug them close. Speak to channel controllers or commissioning directors and enter a whole new world.

(Having said that, everyone at the BBC really does believe AI feedback is just as important as the crude viewing figures. Which is why Doctor Who fans shouldn't have kittens every time the second episode's numbers lurch downwards on the hottest day of late summer.)
posted by bebrogued at 11:57 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why that's not apples-to-apples, or better.

Because it's all delayed, older content, which is why it's so much cheaper. Like watching Dexter on Netflix isn't equivalent to having immediate access to it on Showtime. That's why I don't think it's a fair comparison. Even if you also spend $10 or so a month on buying some shows on demand--it doesn't seem, at least in my opinion, to be similar experiences to the BBC.

That notwithstanding, I think it's an excellent approach to getting your TV. I have cable (well, DirecTV) but I've never watched an episode of Breaking Bad live, only ever via Netflix. I would do the same as you if I could satisfy my wife's awful tastes in reality TV without cable... although I would miss HBOGO and I curse HBO for refusing to come out from the cable bundling model.

On a separate note, those in the US who may not be familiar with Ianucci, may like to watch HBO's Veep, which was created by him (and Simon Blackwell).
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:45 PM on September 12, 2012


BBC shows I want

Which you'd have to pay for to be made if it weren't for the licence fee.

Also, Test Match Special and the career of the Undertones, two more things brought to you by the BBC. No single institution has created so much of value to so many different people. Cheap at twice the price. But I like all you can eat services, I was raised on public libraries and Radio 4, and I don't think I was the loser for it.
posted by howfar at 3:00 PM on September 12, 2012


Which you'd have to pay for to be made if it weren't for the licence fee.

Of course! But I'm sure that if the BBC offered to sell Doctor Who or Luther to another production company, they'd jump at the chance. The profitable shows would still be made (and in larger numbers!) under an a-la-carte system. Is there a market for Idris Elba to tape hour long phone book readings? Yes. Yes there is. Yet the Beeb ignores that niche.

Because it's all delayed, older content, which is why it's so much cheaper

It's only delayed eight hours. I've got other things to do Saturday nights than watch Doctor Who: it (used to) make a great treat for rainy Sunday afternoons. If this Amy-Rory soap opera* nonsense keeps up, though.... Well: the very best thing about a-la-carte is when a show starts to suck and you can just stop buying it.

* It's like the Gift of the Magi. "I love you so much that I have to divorce you!" Rather than kill off the old companions suddenly, they've decided to make them so detestable that the audience will beg for them to die and be replaced with someone new.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:02 PM on September 12, 2012


It's only delayed eight hours.

Errmmm.... wow! I had no idea. I was considering the likes of Netflix and how it takes up to a year. In which case, I understand your point. I shall start looking more closely at Amazon Prime's content, the main thing we watched was Downton. I still won't be able to get the Kardashians and that crap on there to appease my wife though...
posted by NailsTheCat at 7:05 PM on September 12, 2012


If this Amy-Rory soap opera* nonsense keeps up, though.

Who knows when it will end? Spoilers, sweetie.
posted by jaduncan at 4:06 AM on September 13, 2012


jaduncan: let's just say I'm looking forward to Christmas for the first time in a while.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:50 AM on September 13, 2012


« Older Shinichi Mochizuki believes that he has found a co...  |  The music industry is moving r... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments