Northern Ireland calls for more BBC productions

Game of Thrones filming in Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland's production community believe that the BBC Charter renewal provides a great opportunity to build on the successes on shows such as Game of Thrones and The Fall.

The Scottish referendum cast a major spotlight on the BBC's stuttering service of the smaller nations and the continuing issue of spending commitments. Ahead of the Belfast Media Festival on 6 and 7 November, a group of Northern Irish indies have now suggested that an increased commitment to the nation from the BBC could have an industry-altering effect.

Phil Morrow, managing director of Wild Rover Productions, said: "An injection of £10m would be a massive impact. We've never had problems sourcing good people. It was always slightly lazy thinking to suggest the talent wasn't here. A plethora of shows commissioned here have been huge successes."

The BBC spent 2.2% of its announced £2.3bn TV programming budget in Northern Ireland last year ,  which was reported at totalling roughly £51m, well below its 11% and 6.8% commitments in Scotland and Wales respectively. Ian Kennedy, Creative Skillset's head of stakeholder partnerships in Northern Ireland, said: "Northern Ireland represents 3% of the UK, so 3% of the network spend should be in Northern Ireland. It's fair, it's proper and the BBC will benefit from that."

Channel  4 proactively committed to increasing its investment in the nations from 3% to 9% by 2020, as part of its highly anticipated licence renewal in January. The broadcaster's revamping would be worth around £12m to indies in the nations, however there is no reported indication on how much each nation shall be granted.

Stephen Stewart, managing director of Green Inc, which makes BBC1 Northern Ireland's Monumental and produced Ask Rhod Gilbert for the broadcaster, said that he is very optimistic. "I don't want to seem like I'm bashing the BBC. The amount of production the BBC is doing in Northern Ireland is great. It just doesn't happen to be with the indigenous companies."

Like Kennedy and Morrow, he said: "There is a lot of good talent here. So many people have held senior broadcast positions in London."

All three mentioned the calculated risk HBO made in bringing Game of Thrones to Northern Ireland and how there industry counterparts worked diligently to meet the challenge.

Earlier this year, Northern Ireland Screen dedicated a £43m investment strategy to entice more high-profile productions. Kennedy said: "Game of Thrones, The Fall and Line of Duty are putting Northern Ireland on the map as a great location and it's allowed us to build a terrific craft and technical workforce to service those productions. He added: "Our sector is as creative as anywhere in the UK. The challenge that faces us is to make ourselves more credible to network commissioners."

With the Belfast Media Festival looming the trio noted that some tough questions may face keynote speakers, Danny Cohen, director of Television at the BBC and Jay Hunt, chief creative at Channel 4. "As an industry we'll be asking them how they feel about their spending. It should be an interesting conversation."


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