Is Scottish TV production falling behind?

Is Scottish TV production falling behind?

ouglas Henshall starred as DI Jimmy Perez in the Scottish BAFTA-winning drama Shetland (Credit: BBC/ITV Studios/Mark Mainz)
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon

How healthy is Scotland’s TV production sector? STV's Director of Content, Alan Clements, gives his diagnosis

Is the glass half full or half empty? That classic question, or cliché, is actually a really useful way to look at the production industry in Scotland. On the surface, all appears rosy. 

The BBC has survived largely intact from the Charter renewal process. Whatever emerges from the scrapping of the in-house guarantee and the establishment of BBC Studios, the corporation’s spending commitment in the nations and regions of the UK remains undamaged.  

Channel 4, guided by Ian MacKenzie in its Glasgow office, is also committed to spending more in the nations. The last Pact survey revealed Scotland securing 8% of out-of-London spend. 

The end of last year also saw new flowers blooming north of the border. Ross Harper and Jane Rogerson set up Red Sky, while Firecracker opened for business in Scotland under the talented Elspeth O’Hare. 

The Scottish Baftas ceremony in November was a glittering affair. Hollywood actors mingled with hard-nosed journalists. There were well-deserved gongs for programmes as diverse as Shetland and This Farming Life and, of course, our own moving documentary Dunblane: Our Story

Lots of very full glasses were drunk. But dig deeper and a more worrying picture emerges. The glass starts to drain. 

The incoming Director of BBC Scotland will have to fight some sharp-elbowed colleagues to try to ensure that more of the licence fee raised in Scotland is spent in Scotland. He also needs to answer political questions about why we don’t do as well, proportionately, as Wales. BBC Scotland’s in-house production unit will have to shake off the current round of redundancies and get ready to scrap for commissions from buyers 400 miles away. 

"Everyone means well but nothing changes. And we continue to fall further behind."

New companies do spin out of established companies and do well, as Raise the Roof Productions has done, but no indigenous Scottish company has grown through acquisition to challenge the London super-indies.  

Consider how Tinopolis grew from a Welsh base via the purchase of Mentorn and Sunset+Vine, among others. The Scottish independent sector remains small and under-­capitalised. 

As Scotland has dithered endlessly about a studio, Pinewood has built one in Wales. More importantly, the lack of returning network drama since the demise of Taggart remains a major concern. 

Northern Irish Screen has a remarkably clear mission statement – to be the second sector in production after London – and is putting its money where its mouth is. 

Those Game of Thrones enthusiasts doing the tourist trail on the Antrim coast could, and perhaps should, have been travelling through the Western Isles of Scotland on a similar quest. 

Late last year, I was interviewed by a consultant. He was a perfectly nice man but the dispiriting fact was that I was answering the same questions that I was asked 20 years ago. 

Meanwhile, Scotland has gone from challenging for second place in the production race to fourth, behind Manchester/Salford and Bristol/Cardiff, with Belfast breathing down our neck. 

Part of the problem is undoubtedly institutional. Creative Scotland remains, at heart, a cultural, rather than an industrial, organisation. It is focused on theatrically released content. Scottish Enterprise has dabbled in the sector but has not made TV production a priority. And the Scottish government already has these two quangos dealing with the creative industries in place. 

Crucially, no one has an annual job review at which they are quizzed on their responsibility for the health of the TV production sector in Scotland. 

It is everyone’s problem, therefore no one’s problem. Everyone means well but nothing changes. And we continue to fall further behind. 

I hope 2017 brings a renewed focus on the sector, so that this time next year I will raise that half-filled glass to wish you a very Happy New Year.