Looking ahead the key challenge for arts programme makers is how to make sure we still get decent commissions, respectable budgets and reasonable slots in a tough multi-channel environment. At the moment ITV still commissions arts programmes but as they are not mandated (unlike religion, news, regional programmes etc). Who knows for how long? The BBC’s licence may only last for a few more years, and then what?
There seem to be three options for the future of public service programmes. The first is Ofcom’s suggestion of a public service publisher - some kind of Arts Council for the air where arts programme makers bid for budgets out of some special reserve fund. The second is that we cling on to the BBC in some form or other and allow commercial broadcasters to shake off any non profit-making commitments - we leave public service programming entirely to the BBC. The third and most difficult way forward is that we continue to fund public service broadcasting inside and outside the BBC via existing institutions.
It is my opinion that the third one of these options is the preferred one but we need to raise our game. The first option sounds like it might fall prey to political correctness, the second would allow the BBC to become complacent and the third will be a real struggle for everyone concerned but could just pay off.
In the future there will be no room for auteur arts filmmakers using shows to indulge their creative fantasy lives. There will be no room for lazy film making where the director cuts the film in a week and spends the rest of the edit in the pub. Neither will there be room for dull and pretentious films about subjects that not even the crew, the colleagues or the families of the director are interested in.
To stand a chance of surviving, arts programme makers must learn techniques from other genres of television, especially entertainment. We must embrace popular culture but be clever and interesting about it. We must think about making shorter, punchier programmes (why are arts films so bloody long!?). And we must avoid the temptation to narrowcast.
If we can do this then maybe public service programmes will stand a chance, maybe we won’t have to screech at advertisers with our excuses that although only half a million people tuned in ‘they are all ABC1’s - their spending power is so huge it is like 8 million, really!’ Maybe we can make interesting, relevant and entertaining programmes that everyone wants to watch – this is a dream to most arts programme makers and one which everyone, including the broadcasters themselves, needs to try harder to achieve.