Memorandum submitted by the Film Council
On behalf of the Film Council, I would like
to submit the enclosed contribution to the deliberations of the
Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill. Please accept
my apologies for the delay in entering this submission. This was
because the submission needed the approval of the Film Council
This submission aims to set out why we believe
that there should be clear acknowledgement in the Bill that the
broadcasters should engage with the British film industry.
While seeking to adhere closely to the "light
touch" principles set out in the Bill, the Film Council is
keen to seize the opportunity afforded by the passage of the Bill
to contribute to the advancement of the objectives set by the
Government for the British film industry and for the Film Council.
I would be delighted to help in any way I can
if the Committee has any questions or comments it would like to
put to my Film Council colleagues or myself.
I am copying this letter to Lord Puttnam.
Sir Alan Parker CBE
1. The Film Council was established in April
2000 in the wake of the Government's Film Policy Review. The Film
Council's role is to advance the twin objectives that emerged
from the policy review process:
To help create a sustainable UK film
To develop film culture in the UK.
2. The Film Council is making this submission
to the Joint Committee as a result of discussions by its Board
regarding proposals the Council intends to publish in September
2002. These proposals are aimed at taking forward the objectives
set for it by DCMS. The Film Council has recognised that the Communications
Bill represents a vital opportunity to address some aspects of
the landscape in the UK that have tended to hinder the effective
implementation of Government policy towards film.
3. The first part of this submission examines
the consequences of the failure of the broadcasters to engage
with the British film industry. In the view of the Film Council,
if broadcasters are to make a sustained and meaningful commitment
to British film, it is only likely to be on the basis of obligations
agreed with and overseen by OFCOM.
4. Although we are not advancing specific
amendments at this stage, the Film Council would like to see some
acknowledgement in the Bill that the relationship between the
broadcasters and the British film industry can and should be addressed.
5. The second part of the submission sets
out the Film Council's commitment to assist OFCOM in carrying
through its responsibilities to promote media literacy.
PART 1: BROADCASTERS
6. In its report, A Bigger Picture, the
DCMS Film Policy Review Group (1997-98) wrote:
"The broadcasters are a vital and integral
component of the British film industry . . . The Review Group
is concerned that overall there is too great a mismatch between
the benefits that the broadcasters reap from filmwhich
accounts for around 10 per cent of TV viewing timeand the
resources that they put back into film, whether through licensing
of films or direct investment in production . . . If we are to
develop a sustainable British film industry, there must be a steady
stream of investment from such important and powerful end-users.
Such investment in British film will help broadcasters meet the
requirement under EU law that they devote at least 50 per cent
of their schedules to European audiovisual works."
7. The Review Group proceeded to propose
that DCMS should hold meetings with the broadcasters to discuss
their plans for future investment in the British film industry.
8. When, however, the Review Group reconvened
in September 1998 in its new guise as the Action Committee, any
idea that the broadcasters would follow the guidance of the Review
Group was swiftly abandoned. The cornerstone of the recommendations
set out in A Bigger Picture was the All-Industry Fund,
a voluntary mechanism to pay for the initiatives (such as investment
in script development and the distribution business) the Review
Group proposed. It soon became clear that the main contributors
to any All Industry Fund would be the broadcasters. For this reason,
the broadcasters were implacably opposed to the establishment
of the All Industry Fund. They did not propose any alternative
mechanism. The Fund itself failed to materialise.
9. In the four years since the Action Committee,
the position of broadcasters vis a" vis British film has
only changed insofar as it has deteriorated. Two companies established
by broadcasters to invest in filmCarlton Films and Sky
Pictureshave effectively closed down. BBC Films and Granada
Films continue to operate with modest ambitions and Channel 4's
Film Four is currently being drastically scaled back.
10. Why is it that the initial willingness
of broadcasters to develop strategies around investing in UK film
has atrophied? Why is it that, to the extent that UK broadcasters
schedule films for mainstream audiences, they have not sought
a greater involvement in ensuring an adequate supply of British
films? The answer to these two questions lies in the structure
of the UK television market. There has historically been little
or no competition between broadcasters to acquire rights and their
need for titles to fill the slots allocated to the kind of feature
films they require has been almost entirely met from the output
deals they have with the US majors. This is a low-risk, relatively
low-cost strategy. By contrast, investing in British films is
relatively high-risk. UK broadcasters, in the main, are not set
up to cope with the vagaries of the film business. They prefer
not to accept the long delays between a film's production and
its availability for transmission. Instead, it is more efficient
and lucrative to pick up finished product. Unlike sports rights,
there are no "must-have" films and even the most desirable
British films can be easily substituted. In short, there is no
compelling incentive to invest upstreamin theatrical distribution,
or development or production.
11. So even if UK broadcasters are key economic
beneficiaries of feature film activity there will continue to
be no compelling business case to increase involvement in British
12. The Film Council is currently finalising
policy proposals to address the persisting structural weaknesses
in the British film industry and to help make it more competitive
in the global market place. The underlying principle of these
proposals will be to give the strategy to promote investment in
the British film industry a distribution-led focus. The Film Council's
diagnosis is that the independent UK distribution sector is of
insufficient scale and scope to realise adequately the potential
of the UK film industry. The sector is currently unable to effectively
access either the UK or the international market.
13. Perhaps the most striking manifestation
of this weakness in UK distribution structures, then, is the near
total absence of television broadcasters from the market for British
film. In the life cycle of the exploitation of a film in the market
place, free and pay television are key in terms of both the audiences
for films and the economic value generated by them. If UK broadcasters
do not play a full part in that the exploitation cycle of British
films, then the potential for creating a sustainable British film
industry capable of capitalising on our creative strength, is
14. The free market and existing policies
and regulatory regimes have clearly failed to bring about adequate
engagement, even by pure public service broadcasters like the
BBC, on anything like a level commensurate with their counterparts
in other European markets.
15. The leading investor in and exponent
of film across Europe is Canal Plus. The pay-TV broadcaster is
the largest player in feature film in France, Italy, Spain and
Poland. It is a major contributor to film in Scandinavia. In France,
advertising-funded broadcasters, TF1 and M6 have both developed
internationally-successful film investment and sales operations.
Pure public service broadcasters, France Television, La Sept and
Arte, are also significant backers of feature film as are Italian
broadcasters, RAI and Mediaset.
16. In fact the only UK audiovisual distributors
of any scale at all are the broadcasters. But in the view of the
Film Council, if UK broadcasters are to make a meaningful commitment
to British film, it is unlikely to be on the basis of any short-term
logic but only on binding obligations agreed with and overseen
17. In setting out this principle, the Film
Council is seeking to address a problem brought about by the inherent
structure of the UK television market. There may be competition
issues associated with the relationship between powerful broadcasters
and weak film companies, but the Film Council believes these can
be addressed in the context of general competition regulation.
18. Accordingly, the Film Council is proposing
that the Communications Bill include, alongside the regional and
independent production requirements, a measure that recognises
the objective of advancing Government policy in relation to British
film and empowers OFCOM to establish, in consultation with the
broadcasters, effective means for supporting the British film
industry. This would help to build critical mass to the benefit
of both the UK's TV and film industries. The Film Council considers
the principle of agreeing obligations valid for all three tiers
of regulation which it is proposed OFCOM should oversee.
PART 2: THE
19. Like the Draft Communications Bill,
the Film Council places great emphasis on the role of media literacy
as an essential component of citizenship and an instrument of
social inclusion. The Film Council inherited from the British
Film Institute (bfi) for which it now has responsibility the task
of promoting education about and access to film and the "moving
20. What is already clear is that the Film
Council has the remit and the resources to foster education about
and access to cinema. We see an understanding and appreciation
of cinemas as an important component of media literacy and a major
way of promoting it.
21. There is no nationwide body with the
specific remit to promote media literacy and with the necessary
resources and capabilities. On the one hand, we would aver that
media literacy extends beyond film and television to encompass
the press, advertising and multimedia. On the other hand, we note
that not only does the UK lack an institution that can engage
the issues of education across and about all the media, but of
late we have tended to lose some of our assets in this area, for
example, with the closure of two internationally-recognised and
historically significant centres for media research, the Centre
for Cultural Studies in Birmingham and the Centre for Mass Media
in Leicester. This makes even more telling the absence of a centre
for skills and learning related to media literacy.
22. Promoting media literacy implicates
a variety of agencies and principally two Government departmentsDCMS
and DFEE but a lead body needs to be identified that can
take responsibility for implementation.
23. The Communications Bill ought formally
to recognise the Film Council's role in working actively with
Ofcom and other agencies to identify that lead body and to assist
it in its work.