Indies victors in ITV access battle

Britain’s independent TV producers have won a major victory in their battle for access to the ITV network, the country’s top-rated web.

ITV announced this week that indies will be allowed to pitch their projects directly to the new Network Center, which will be responsible for commissioning and scheduling ITV’s network programming from 1993.

Previously, ITV had said that indies would only be able to approach the Center by forming partnerships with regional ITV stations.

Charles Denton, chief executive of Zenith Group and chairman of the indies’ trade body, PACT, hailed the policy shift as “a major step forward” for the independent sector.

As well as enabling indies to compete against the ITV production companies on equal terms for access to the network, the change substantially improves the chances for indies to retain the copyright ownership of their own projects.

Under the old ITV system, with no central scheduling, indies had to beg commissions from the regional ITV companies, who would then place the shows on the network. In return for 100% financing, the ITV company was generally expected to retain the copyright to the show, leaving the indie to live off a production fee.

With little deficit finance available to indies, this made it very difficult for them to build up a program library.

But the new ITV Network Center is interested only in acquiring U.K. TV rights , for a limited period (the exact length of which is currently subject of dispute).

In practice, only the strongest indies will have the resources to approach the Center directly, since projects must be fully developed before they are submitted. And signs are that all producers, whether ITV companies or indies, will face a very tough negotiation over price, with the Network Center using all its weight to force prices down. Only indies with powerful, established programs to sell will be able to lever favorable deals.

“That’s why I’d say about 80% of independent producers will still prefer to go through ITV companies,” predicted Denton. “But at least we now have a real, tough, free market.”

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