Memorandum submitted by Left Bank Pictures

 

 

I am the Chief Executive of Left Bank Pictures, a company which makes both feature films and television drama. We launched the company in July 1 2007. BBC Worldwide took a 25% stake in the company for 1 million. In exchange, BBC Worldwide have a senior representative on our board and have a first look to distribute all of our programming output for the next 5 years.

 

Left Bank Pictures was set up to produce quality top end dramas and comedy series for the UK and international market. There was a lot of interest in my new company as I had enjoyed a strong track record at ITV where I had worked for 15 years in jobs that included Controller of Drama, Comedy and Film and Controller of Entertainment. I was also the Producer of the movie The Queen and award winning TV shows that I helped to launch and produce included The Royle Family, Cold Feet, Prime Suspect, Cracker, The Deal and Longford.

 

 

1. Why did we go with BBC Worldwide?

 

I had several offers from a range of different sorts of potential investors. I met with a wide variety of media tycoons, from Martin Sorrell and Richard Branson to many US entrepreneurs such as John Feltheimer at the fast growing Lionsgate.

It was clear to me that a programme distributor was the most suitable and preferably a UK one. It simply made the most sense. The business of Left Bank was producing TV shows. The company needed to get its product distributed and distributed well. BBC Worldwide is the best in this country and BBC Worldwide needs more shows to distribute in order for it to continue to grow. Worldwide needs partnerships. I was looking for a partnership that made sense for my new business. Worldwide did. I turned down two other distributors who offered similar but not as good deals and rejected the advances from the US based companies.

 

2. What did BBC Worldwide offer?

 

The 1 million investment guaranteed that the company would be solvent for at least a year. The money was just sufficient to launch a team of 7 people (myself included) with office, overheads and development spend. Worldwide also provide brilliant support. The executive team at Worldwide are terrific. John Smith, Wayne Garvie and Helen Jackson have helped us enormously. We work very closely together and plan productions and the recoupment strategy very carefully. The BBC team combine their selling expertise and worldwide contacts with our considerable production experience. It's perfect. Raising money for co-productions is one of the most important parts of the business these days. Production companies like ours need a real dialogue and support in order to close the complex deals involved. The numbers are big. Today's international TV budgets are frequently bigger than movies. Wallander, for example, cost a total of 7.5 million for 3 films.

 

3. How have we get on?

 

Left Bank secured its first commission from ITV with support from the Irish broadcaster RTE for a 4 part 5 million thriller within 6 months. This was followed by confirmation of a major new series (3 x 90 minute films) for BBC 1 with Ken Branagh starring as Wallander - the Swedish detective, created by top Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell. We have also secured a 6 part comedy series called The School of Comedy for E4 and a new 6 part adult relationship / Cold Feet style series for ITV. Other commissions are in the pipeline. In our first year we achieved a turnover of 2.2 million. Year 2 is predicted to be well over 20 million.

 

4. Would we have achieved this without Worldwide's investment and support?

 

I very much doubt it. Worldwide's deal was simple - the proposition was clear - the partnership works effectively and without fuss. Worldwide is getting a brand new supply of TV shows to feed their international markets and we are successfully selling shows in both the UK and worldwide and building our business. Who else could have provided this level of support and commitment? No one that I can think of. I did have other offers when I was setting up the company but none of them came from other UK indie companies and most of the serious offers were from outside of the UK. The UK based indies who are most vocal to Worldwide's investments fear the competition from companies like Left Bank in my view. The agenda from the indies that I spoke to was always about them "acquiring me" from day one. They had NO interest in helping me to launch as an independent. So I do NOT believe that the market in the UK would have provided the funds for Left Bank to launch. I think BBC Worldwide have created something original and something very important for our business. They - alone - were prepared to back new start ups in the UK at that time.

 

5. Why is BBC Worldwide's investment in indie production companies a good thing?

 

In our case their investment ensured that my company stayed British owned and within the wider firmament of the BBC. The first look deal does NOT help me to secure any commissions with the BBC but being a part of the wider world of the BBC is both helpful and is delivering real value to all areas of the corporation.

 

6. Was it a risky investment?

 

I am obviously biased but I would say no - and 18 months into the life of the new company the figures speak for themselves. I think Worldwide are very clever. They know what they are doing and they are doing it very well. It is clear that some of their opponents are jealous. Worldwide is an easy target as people misunderstand where their money comes from and what their commercial targets are. A strong, successful and independent BBC Worldwide is a very good thing for the BBC and for the UK media business. We should be celebrating their success and their acumen and not constantly undermining it. I can't help feeling that sheer jealousy lies at the root of some of the critics who are popping up - that's typically British and very silly.

 

BBC Worldwide are growing their business by being committed and being supportive to small but important and growing UK talent based production companies. Thank the Lord for that.

 

October 2008