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Screen agencies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales join forces to call for Channel 4 production quotas that ensure C4 is for all the UK

Date Posted: February 28, 2024

Northern Ireland Screen, Screen Scotland and Creative Wales are concerned that Ofcom is recommending a new 65% London quota and renewal of a 91% C4 production quota for England across the next decade.

In response to OFCOM’s current consultation on the renewal of Channel 4’s operating licence Northern Ireland Screen, Screen Scotland and Creative Wales have come together to urge OFCOM to scrap its proposal to maintain Channel 4’s current ‘Made Outside England’ quota at 9%, with 91% of C4’s production reserved for England and 65% directly for London.

The trio of nations is pushing OFCOM to increase Channel 4’s ‘Outside of London’ commissioning spend to 50%, its out of England quota to 16%+, and to introduce individual quotas for each UK nation in line with those accepted by the BBC since 2009.

Northern Ireland Screen, Screen Scotland and Creative Wales believe that Channel 4 should fulfil its remit and licence obligations as a Public Service Broadcaster equitably across the entire UK delivering content promoting new and diverse voices and perspectives and playing its part as a broadcaster owned by the UK public in supporting the creative economy outside London. It is essential that Channel 4 operate in a manner that ensures no individual nation experiences undue advantages or disadvantages. All three screen agencies agreed that a 91% quota in favour of England is indefensible in the UK in 2024.

Overall, the proposals outlined by OFCOM contradict Channel 4’s own ALL 4 the UK strategy which states “to truly fulfil our remit to stand up for diversity, take creative risks and inspire change, we knew we’d need to change too. We’d need to look and feel different, behave differently and most importantly, get outside the M25. It’s about representing a diversity of thought and opinions from across the UK, and across all of our content.”

The Ofcom consultation reports that Channel 4 has found it challenging to commission outside of the M25 and to meet the current 9% “Out of England” quota, yet the historic data presented by Ofcom and C4 does not strongly support that assertion. All three screen agency responses pointed towards the economic success of the BBC’s 16%+ quota across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as a more appropriate benchmark upon which to set Channel 4 targets, one that reflects the population share of all four home nations. The BBC has not experienced difficulty in meeting its higher quota, and remains confident that its broad range of suppliers across the UK will continue to deliver for the Corporation.

Channel 4 and OFCOM both assert that there are alternative initiatives to support the screen industries in the nations than quotas. While the three screen agencies recognise the benefits that adhoc regional talent and skills schemes have, they all agreed that the key to fostering and safeguarding the regional sector lies in securing commissions – producers respond to broadcaster demand by investing in growth, when publicly owned UK broadcasters target 91% their spend on London and England the commercial incentive for producers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to invest is severely undermined.

All three agencies also disagree with OFCOM’s proposal to maintain the ‘out of London’ production quota for Channel 4 at 35%, pointing to the fact that Channel 4 has had no difficulty exceeding its current 50% target for production outside London for 3 years now.

The OFCOM consultation quotes Channel 4 as saying that ‘despite growth in recent years, the UK production sector continues to be significantly smaller outside London. That means there are fewer production companies, often smaller in scale, and therefore with less capacity to develop creative ideas and produce them, in comparison with London’. However, Channel 4 has not made a sustained, strategic effort to grow its supplier network outside of England over the last 20 years. All three agencies highlighted that, in contrast to C4, the BBC has made significant strategic efforts to expand its supplier base outside of London since 2009, working with a range of independent producers across scripted and factual genres.

David Smith, Director of Screen Scotland, said: “A broadcaster that is owned by the UK public should deliver its remit across the UK. When trying to avoid privatisation, Channel 4 argued that it had to “get out of the M25”. With that battle won, the Channel has changed its tune, now saying that it must commission and make 65% of its programmes in London, 91% in England. Scotland’s independent producers have a long history of delivering C4’s hits- Location, Location, Location was devised and developed in Glasgow and has been made in Scotland from its first series. If C4 pivots back towards London-to-London commissioning, thousands of freelancer jobs across the UK will be lost. Screen Scotland urges Ofcom to look again at the evidence it has gathered and introduce production quotas for C4 that match those accepted by the BBC in 2009, 16%+ outside of England, with a specific quota for production from Scotland of at least 8%.”

Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen said; “Northern Ireland Screen is extremely disappointed with OFCOM’s position on Nation’s Quotas for C4.  As relates to Northern Ireland, OFCOM ignores the deeply concerning portrayal ownership statistics which say that while 51% of Londoners identify with C4 only 22% of people in Northern Ireland do.   And fails to make any connect between this damning statistic and C4’s extremely poor record of commissioning from Northern Ireland over the 10-year license period. We urge OFCOM to reconsider its position, treat Northern Ireland with respect and increase Channel 4’s Made Outside England Quota to 16%, with a specific Northern Ireland quota of 3% based on population size.”

Gerwyn Evans, Deputy Director at Creative Wales said: “Here in Wales we are proud of our thriving screen sector and are working hard to develop and grow it further. These Ofcom proposals around quotas for Channel 4 filming in London and England go against much of what we are working to achieve and seem to be a huge backward step that would only serve to refocus a significant part of the UK’s TV production back to London and the South East of England.

“Creative Wales is proud that Channel 4 shows such as the award winning The Great House Giveaway’ have been made in Wales, and that recurrent series have enabled production company, Chwarel to grow sustainably, creating local jobs and economic benefits. Light in the Hall is another great example of Channel 4 making High End, quality TV here in Wales and we are keen to continue and build on our positive working relationship. We would urge everyone involved in these proposals to reconsider their position and take action to protect our screen industry, and the many jobs and opportunities it brings to Wales.”

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