As we approach the television industry's annual bout of speech- making and ruthless interrogation of its executive classes, it is tempting to see only problems and storm clouds. True, the year 2007 may well go down as an awful one for the industry as a whole, but that would be to miss an important point.
We still spend almost [pound]3bn in this country on original television production, providing a range and richness of programming that compares favourably with anywhere in the world. (You may have heard this once or twice before, but in these dark days it feels good to give the point another airing.)
Fans of US drama series - and my personal addictions here range from The Wire and Friday Night Lights, to Grey's Anatomy and Supernatural - would still have to admit that British television encompasses a greater range of styles and subjects, across a broader mix of genres. And today - unlike 10 years ago - digital channels are a critical source of innovation and experimentation.
At the Edinburgh TV Festival back in the early Nineties, I heard the then-boss of Sky One, David Elstein, announce to a largely uninterested and bemused audience that he wanted to commission original series for his fledgling channel. Some weeks later, I visited BSkyB's headquarters in Osterley and sold Sky One a 20-part factual series for what seemed to all my colleagues the bewilderingly low licence of [pound]12,000 per hour. My boss at LWT, one Greg Dyke, wondered why I had bothered.
Today, we are witnessing an unheralded explosion in original programming - outside of the terrestrial channels. ITV2, for one, has doubled its volume of original UK-produced programmes, and is looking to build on that investment again next year. BBC3 and BBC4 are consistently commissioning drama and comedy, as well as factual and entertainment series, and E4 has won large audiences this year for its original drama series Skins, as well as for entertainment series like Fonejacker.
We may be some way off the US experience, where channels like FX, Lifetime and Showtime, as well as HBO, are commissioning drama and comedy that sometimes seems interchangeable with that offered by the networks, but the landscape has changed dramatically in the UK in the last few years. There are two underlying reasons why this trend will continue, and why it and offers exciting opportunities for producers, across all the major genres.
First, the reach, and therefore the economics, of the biggest digital channels now bear comparison with the terrestrials - if not ITV, or BBC1, then Five certainly. Originally produced series are not only sustainable on digital channels, they may also be cheaper than some of the US series.
Secondly, the major terrestrials now see their digital channels as a source of essential research and development. The migration of Little …