Design in Britain: A Triumph of Creative Thinking

By Thompson, Mark | The Independent (London, England), September 26, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Design in Britain: A Triumph of Creative Thinking

Thompson, Mark, The Independent (London, England)

FOR AN industry which claims to be on the brink of a world- beating digital future, British television is awfully fond of looking backwards.

Two weeks ago, the BFI published its list of the hundred greatest TV programmes of all time. Despite a large sprinkling of outstanding shows like The Royle Family from the Eighties and Nineties, press coverage was dominated by classic TV from the Sixties and Seventies.

But the focus on past glories carries dangers too. It's not an obsession shared by Britain's competitors in the global media market. In Hollywood especially, the past is history; the best show is next year's show. Studios' successes depend on their ability to identify and capture present and future talent; to develop it and take risks with it; to move it from medium to medium and reward it flexibly and generously. If British television is to play a full part in the growth of the UK's creative industries, it too must focus on today's and tomorrow's talent.

That's why the BBC is so interested in the kind of thinking, backed by the Design Council through initiatives such as CreativeNet (see page two), which aims to fulfil our potential in the knowedge- based economy. The BBC will play an important part in creating that economy, with our vision to bring digital educational opportunities to every classroom and home. We're determined to use campaigns like Web Wise and Computers Don't Bite to encourage the use of computers and the internet.

But the BBC will also be critical in that knowledge economy. The audio- visual sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and intrinsically knowledge-based; every great movie or TV show or web-page begins with a great idea. The UK's strengths in many parts of the sector, in radio and TV production and music especially, mean that we can play a bigger role in the world market.

But success is not certain. Several factors - the global strength of American audio-visual products and the fast-changing structure of commercial production and broadcasting in Britain among them - could affect our progress.

Major investment in British production and British talent will be vital, but is by no means assured. Let's take TV: the economics of cable, satellite and digital TV in Britain mean that the big money has gone to rights-holders - the studios and football clubs - and very little has filtered into production. Some cable and satellite categories, like the children's services, are dominated by imported programmes.

The need to deliver early audience and advertiser success is having an impact on some traditional British TV strengths. Sitcoms, which often take several series to make a mark, are rare on commercial television; apart from a handful of titles on Channel 4, the form now depends on the BBC. If we gave up, comedy would continue to fill our screens, but in 20 years' time we would be gathering to celebrate brilliant American shows like Frasier rather than The League of Gentlemen.

That's why the BBC has a central role to play in nurturing and supporting UK production. This summer we announced a new strategy for BBC Television, backed by investment made possible by an increased licence fee and internal savings. The vast majority of this new money will flow directly into production - into everything from natural history and science to new British comedy like Coupling or People Like Us. Our proposed new channels, BBC3 and BBC4, will specifically support key parts of Britain's creative industries.

Next week we begin a public consultation to elicit the views of licence payers about our proposals. Their opinion will be crucial in helping us shape the new services.

BBC3 will back new comic talent, new programme-makers and new British music.

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