Graeme Thompson: Ladies and gentleman, can I welcome you all to our annual Keynote Lecture. My name is Graeme Thompson and I am Chair of the Royal Television Society for the North East and The Border. This series of events is designed really to get colleagues in the creative industries really talking about the issues that are facing television and the other media of the day, and we're very confident that you're in for a very stimulating talk and debate (hopefully) afterwards. There will be time for questions afterwards and we would invite you afterwards to come upstairs and join us for more drinks... but can I hand you over to the Secretary of the Royal Television Society, Tony Edwards, who is our host for this particular event.
Tony Edwards: Thank you. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome. Our guest speaker this evening, Tom Gutteridge, rightly deserves the description of one of Britain's most successful independent executives and he hails from the North East. Initially attending the Royal Grammer School here in Newcastle, and later the University of York (where he graduated with a degree in English and Philosophy). Tom became a BBC News Trainee, and later the production of current affairs programmes such as Nationwide, Panorama and Tonight. His range of programme credits [flicking pages and laughter] quite literally is too many to list here. I'm sure he will allude to them during the…. [laughter]
An award-winning director, he left the BBC in 1985 as an executive producer and founded Mentorn, which soon became Britain's largest independent production company. Mentorn makes programmes which range from entertainment shows like Robot Wars and Star for a Night, and factual series such as the BBCs flagship programme Question Time, to popular factual shows like Britain's Worst Driver and Shops, Robbers and Videotape, and landmark documentaries such as Queen and Country, and The Valley (which won the Prix Italia). Tom has had a leading involvement with the Television Corporation, Britain's second largest production company, initially as Director of Content and Marketing and later as Group Creative Director. This was followed by an appointment as Chief Executive Officer, Freemantle Media North America. Tom has had an array of international awards including an Emmy for the drama The Bullion Boys, several Bafta and Royal Television Society awards. Tom was vice-chair of the RTS (and indeed I believe that's where we first met), and has been a trustee of the National Film and Television School Foundation. He was also Chair of PACT. His spare time — spare time! — is devoted to enjoying cooking, playing the piano, listening to all forms of music. He has set up the Tom Gutteridge Foundation to provide bursaries to enable under-priviledged children and adults to improve their education. Ladies and gentlemen, I can think of no more an appropriate person to reflect on the current and future state of an industry to which he has made so significant a contribution. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our keynote speaker, Tom Gutteridge.
Tom Gutteridge: Charming, you don't have to say anything after that speech, fantastic. I love coming… any excuse to come back to Newcastle I have to say is great. Anyway, isn't this [North of England Mining Institute] the most amazing place? I guess you've all been here before but I haven't and I did my A Level revision in the Lit & Phil next door but I didn't know this place existed — it's fantastic. It actually takes me back almost exactly 10 years to the day, because 10 years ago I was asked to give the 50th Anniversary RTS anniversary lecture, the Fleming Lecture, and it took place in the Royal Institution, so if you can imagine this but like even steeper and like a balcony as well, and like five times the height... and it was pretty terrifying! But I gave a talk then, it was exactly 10 years ago, and it was called '50 Channels and Nothing On' — actually '57 Channels and Nothing On' to quote the record right. There I was….. I just had a look at it actually yesterday before I decided what I was going to talk about today, and I warned of the consequences of not giving producers rights in the multi-channel world and I called on the government to force the ITV terms of trade onto Channel 4 and BBC.
And I also proposed a very radical suggestion that the BBC reduced its in-house capacity to 50%, creating a 25% additional amount of programming up for grabs to both producers and broadcasters. All of which of course has now happened... not because I said it then, but because it was inevitable that it had to happen, so I hope some of the things I'm going to say tonight will happen more quickly than 10 years and I suspect they will!
Because we producers got what we wanted — we wanted all of that and we got it and so perfect isn't it? I mean, content is now king and we are in the content and that's all you need and everyone can be rich. But is content king, or is it just a pawn in the new multichannel, multiplatform, multimedia world? Because I don't believe that 10 years ago anybody (least of all me) could have predicted the changes that have actually have occurred in our industry, and all those changes (not just in the last 10 or even the last 30 years) cannot equate to the changes that I believe will take place in our industry over the next 2 years. By the time the Border region stops transmitting terrestrially (which is just 2 years from now) we'll be in a new world where there will be no real distinction at all between programmes made for television and programmes made for the internet — where revenue from downloads will begin to match advertising revenue generated by the initial transmission; where producers will be using television as a promotional tool for content and not as their only source of income; and where viewers won't be viewers any more, but they will be customers.
So when I look back at the last 30 years (because I am exceedingly old!), I look at the television industry with such affection. My world began here in Newcastle with my first ever visit to a television studio, the BBC studios — studios... there was one studio! — it was called the BBC studios but there was one studio, very much smaller than this room, in New Bridge Street. From that day at the age of 16 on a school tour led by the Look North reporter Michael Rodd, I wanted nothing more than to be a television director. So by 23 I was directing Nationwide in London, and I was talking down the line to that very same studio in Newcastle (or more likely shouting at the Carlisle Switcher!). Now I assumed this was a man — I don't know but I just assumed it — the Carlisle Switcher... his job was to switch the separate sound and vision circuits as they came in from Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester and make sure the right circuits were routed to our studios, Studio E in London. I also assume the bars open early in Carlisle, because on an odd night you might get something like... there would be a vision of a technician in Newcastle with his feet on the desk smoking a cigarette and reading a girly mag, while viewers will be hearing the sound of a very serious debate on abortion coming from Glasgow. You never knew what you got with the Carlisle Switcher, but you did feel that you were part of a team... a team where everybody mattered, because in those days television teams were massive. 7 people on a single camera crew in ITV anyway. When I shot Fire and Ice (which was an ice ballet starring Torvill and Dean), we took a crew of 130 from London Weekend Television all the way to Stuttgart in Germany to shoot it. It cost $3 million for 1 hour of video — the most expensive video programme ever made (more of which in a moment).
And the wonderful cock-ups that we had in those days — they're not matched nowadays. Like in my case on Nationwide the Judge who died live on air [laughter], you don't get things like that do you…. well appeared to. It was actually an actress dressed as a judge and she just slid out of shot as she fainted under the studio lights and I — I was 23 and I was the studio director — and it was live of course and I panicked and I said "Zoom In — lose the judge" and I said down the earpiece to poor old Bob Wellings — do you remember Bob Wellings, the presenter? — I said "Keep talking, Bob", and he said "Oh, I'm most terribly sorry" and he stepped over her and just carried on as if nothing had happened. The complaints we got from the duty office as he stepped over the corpse… she was okay. Or David Dimbleby stuck for 11 minutes — terrible minutes — in Studio 3 at Television Centre... massive studio with 4 cameras pointing at him and all the film had gone down and there was nothing to run in, and all because a man in a brown coat arrived just before we went on air to change a lightbulb in the gallery and switched off the mains while he changed it. It's true!
Or the disaster in the middle of the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations, 1977... never forget it! We're in the London Centre of Operations, I was 25 then, directed by me — 25, you couldn't imagine it these days could you — the London Centre of Operations lost contact with the St Paul's Cathedral operation because somebody locked the crew out of the cathedral after lunch and they couldn't get back in to get to the scanner to talk to me and to tell me that the Queen had overrun her walkabout by 20 minutes and the whole of the Commonwealth (about 1 billion viewers) was about to opt in to what they thought was the Queen's Speech to the Commonwealth at 3 o'clock. And nobody knew what to do, and all I could offer them was Humphrey Littleton and his Band playing live unrehearsed endlessly until the Queen finished her lunch. Humph was only booked for one number (which he'd already played), and so when the crisis happened I said to my PA sitting next to me, I said "Give me a piece of paper, quick", and I wrote down on the piece of paper, I said 'keep going Humph'. And then the floor manager went down and gave it to him, and he looked at it and I'll never forget the look on his face, just off camera. He said "Yeah, yeah, yeah" and he just started playing for 11 terrible minutes as a billion people watched.
We've all had disasters in television. I once directed an Opera from Glynbourne where the star lost her voice completely, in the middle, so we put a throat mike on her and she whispered the rest of the recording... just whispered it and it was recorded (thank God) and then we had to try and sync up her voice later. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we suffer so much pain and stress for television? I mean, in those days we got little enough money out of it, no-one really worried about who had the rights, budgets were pretty meaningless, in-house editing could overrun for weeks. I still hold the record for the longest editing overrun at Television Centre, but there were wonderful compensations, being part of a great loyal, dedicated, focussed and highly trained team.
There was a time — actually I met someone tonight, Ed, who worked with me on The Hot Shoe Show and it reminded me of a story — there was a time when there was industrial action at the BBC for some reason (I can't remember why), and the management banned all overtime, which was a disaster for overrun specialists like me because it meant we had to stop at 10 o'clock on the dot because they didn't want to pay any overtime to the technicians. So I was shooting The Hot Shoe Show which starred Wayne Sleep and Bonny Langford, so imagine that ballroom dancing thing but with them really dancing, and there was no way — we had a crew of 80 — there was no way we were going to finish by 10 o'clock so we had a meeting of the entire crew and they unanimously voted to finish the show. So we got in a few cases of beer, locked the studio doors. Studio 1 Television Centre — the biggest studio in Europe — we locked all the studio doors to keep the management out and for nothing everyone just kept going through the night. Now that was team spirit.
Now I'm not telling you this because I'm a sad old producer thinking about the glory days, but actually because I was reminded of those happy times. Late last year when I was on a lecture tour in Australia/New Zealand and I was in Wellington Airport and I was checking in on the Quantas flight and this man checked me in and he recognised my name and he handed me a card after my boarding pass. And he was an editor — the check-in man at Quantas was an editor, and he'd just bought a high definition camera (and he's called Virgil in case anyone is passing through New Zealand... amazing way to potentially meet new clients!), and the next thing he'll be building a little studio to make pilots, literally.
Nowadays anybody can make TV. If Virgin the check-in man (who was actually bemoaning the fact to me that he was losing jobs to people with real experience!)... if Virgil the check-in man can join the club then no wonder the way looks bleak for the real professional producer, the trained producer. The way that anyone can become a producer nowadays of course is one of the production executive's biggest challenges and it's about to grow completely out of control.
A couple of months ago I joined the 21st Century finally and I bought an iPod Nano — incidentally how embarrassing to discover there's no on/off button…. I spent three days trying to switch the damn thing off, it was constantly charging and recharging, the music constantly playing until at last I did what any red-blooded male would do... I got my eight year old to sort it for me and he said just like that "Dad, it's a Mac, huh, come on!". So I bought this iPod thing and now I know all about iTunes and downloads and podcasts and I bought a Mac so I can really enjoy video downloads in all their glory. My, how things have changed in the last three months! I'm going to show off now! At the beginning of this year if you went on to iTunes you'd see the number one video download was a thing called Photoshot TV, a podcast from the office of two middle aged Canadians, graphic designers with no presentation skills — terrible, terrible production, terrible clothes, terrible production values and the whole thing had the worst production values in the world, and it's set in their office which I suspect is one of their homes because the wife or the daughter kept bringing out cups of tea and coffee in the middle of the show. And do you know, it's completely riveting. I got through four episodes and suddenly realised I had watched more Photoshot TV than I had of any other series so far in 2006. Now of course the networks have woken up to this and for $1.99 (because it's lucky I live in America so I get everything half price) I can download the latest episode of Lost — in fact the latest 20 episodes of Lost, which I do — and I spend more on downloads in a month than I used to spend on CDs and DVDs in a year. Change is happening so fast it's taken my breath away. In the last 30 years we moved from cutting 2 inch video tape with razor blades to the Avid, which in the next few months — months! — we'll be watching content on video iPods, downloading it on to mobile phones, streaming it into our broadband equipped homes, we'll have broadband everywhere. We'll be watching it on trains — I had broadband on the train this morning, free of charge, courtesy of GNER — in planes, in cars, in taxis, on our fridges, our wristwatches, in the toilet. There will be so many platforms, so much opportunity for content, but who will be making it? We the professionals or Virgil the Quantas check-in guy?
And who will own it? The content creators or the media owners who have always held all the strings, the broadcasters, the satellite owners? Or Yahoo or Google or Microsoft? Will content creators now be in charge like they always dreamed, or will content just be another commodity in the quest by the media owners for profits and survival?
Well that's really what I said I was going to talk about, and I don't think actually I've got an answer yet sadly, but I'd like to share with you a few ideas of how I think producers might stand a chance of surviving in this amazingly volatile world we find ourselves in.
First a few scary facts. Apologies if you know these. In three years time more than 50% of the population of the UK will be using broadband. My mum who is 85 got what she really wanted for her birthday last month... broadband. Thanks to last year's present which is a Freeview box, BBC4 has already changed her life — she loves the war and she loves Rembrandt... what more can you need? Now she's one of the new breed of grey Googlers. I just hope nobody tells her about iTunes [laughter] otherwise 'there goes the inheritance'! [laughter]. Anyway, in Hong Kong where broadband speeds are really, fast people already use it to watch conventional TV. We're just months away in the UK where currently we have 70,000 broadband connections a week. More than 75% of internet users locate all their content through search engines — that's how powerful Yahoo and Google are. Already 60-80% of all traffic on the internet is filesharing. On-line, considerably more time is spent chatting — that is e-mailing and im-ing, messaging and Skypeing — they're looking at content. I love Skype... free calls for life. It's the cleverest bit of marketing. I assume everybody knows what Skype is? If not, skype.com, download it, free calls to anywhere in the world. It's great if you live in two places like I do and it's the cleverest bit of marketing because it only works if other people are on so you have to tell as many people as possible so that's why I'm mentioning it now so that….
Three weeks ago the Chairman of Horizon, one of the biggest phone companies in America, said that in a couple of years we'll see speeds of 3 megabit to handsets and 100 megabit broadband... wow! 'Broadband anywhere and broadband everywhere' are the latest buzz words in America. Every single subsiduary of Freemantle Media's huge German operation is now involved with at least one original made-for-mobile project. Scripts, the big huge US cable network which owns the Food Network amongst others, aims to have 10 on-line channels by next year. They also announced last week that they're about to come into the UK. 3% fewer 16-24 year olds are now watching TV than in 2004 and it's accelerating, and by the way the average time viewers spend viewing a music TV channel is 4 minutes. Bob Eiger of Disney recently said, "We have clearly entered a brave new world where many of the rules of yesterday no longer exist". He's not kidding!
So what are we going to do about it? Well for a start not bury our heads in the sand. We can either go off in a bar somewhere (there are enough in Newcastle already) or embrace this new technology. You see, for content creators potentially there's a lot at stake. Terry Semmel, the head of Yahoo said a couple of months ago at the RTS Conference in Cambridge, owning content (or 'stuff' as he called it) remains a key to the future, provided it's marketed flexibly and in ways customers want. The key phrase he said was "owning stuff remains key". He didn't say creating stuff remains key. So who is going to own our stuff? He said people are looking at Yahoo as a potential competitor because they want to stream content on broadband, but he says he wants to look at producers and broadcasters as potential partners. He says Yahoo is just an aggregator, doesn't want to be a producer, it wants the licence product.
So far, so good. But who will he licence it from? The producer or the broadcaster? Who's going to be pulling the strings in 2007? Terry Semmel, one of the most powerful men in media... he also said some interesting things about content. He said when we talk about content we're going to have to talk about different kinds of content — the content that the professional makes, and the content that users make. We're back to Virgil the check-in guy again. Or maybe Virgil is now a professional too because he's got a business card. So we're talking about anyone with a mobile phone that does video. Because Semmel also talked about citizen journalists, like the people who minutes after the London bombings last July started to blog their version of what had just happened, and started taking photos with their mobiles and within seconds Yahoo uploaded those images. You see Yahoo and Google have one huge advantage over the terrestrial broadcasters of today or even over the satellite broadcasters... they have direct personal interaction with the public, and that ultimately is what the advertisers want too. So if the broadcasters think that Sky was dangerous, wait till they take on Google.
Last October a consortium of the cable industry's largest and most powerful operators in America — Comcast, Time-Warner and Cox Communications — announced that they will combined to sell a new mobile phone service using Sprintz US Network Network. At the moment in America you buy your broadband service through the cable companies — now you'll be able to buy your mobile phone service through them as well. Sounds familiar? Yes. The recent merging of Virgin Mobile and NTL is one of the most significant news items this industry has had for (well) at least a few months, because this isn't — as 'Broadcast' this week got it completely wrong, if you read 'Broadcast' — it isn't about offering customers an additional service or economies of scale to go along with their broadband and cable TV, this is all about control. As advertisers rely less and less on conventional broadcasting to reach customers, consumers, because if your loyalty to specific channels has now all but disappeared, what really matters is finding new ways of reaching consumers directly. The days of the 30-second adds are numbered, which is very sad because my eldest son has just become a commercials director! I warned him! That's what's behind the Sprint deal and that's what's behind the Virgin/NTL deal. They know that the average family has only one broadband hookup, 3, 4, 5 or more mobile phones in a household. Mobile phones provide the cable operator with a way of reaching out to their customers even when they're away from home. So actually what this is about is leveraging the contracts that the cable companies have with the content providers — broadcasters — to get video content for broadband and mobile phones, and in the process get advertisers back in touch with consumers. That is what this whole thing is about, and for that they need control of the content.
Now in the US a lot of producers have been saying "Great, mobile phones — here's a new platform. For the first time we can make programmes and sell it directly to the consumer. It could be the key to transforming us from service providers for the broadcasters into genuinely content owners." But not if the broadcasters are simply replaced by the mobile phone and cable companies getting together to corner the market. But sadly it's too late... they already have, and it started in Britain three weeks ago.
Now other ways we can get money out of advertisers to make programmes are just about exhausted. In the UK the broadcasters successfully cut off direct content between producers and advertisers/sponsors. They treated sponsorship as ad revenue and said it was none of our business. But the relationship with advertisers is now both our business and a key to our survival. At long last, way overdue, we are about to get legal product placement onto UK TV. Now in the US it's a fairly significant source of additional revenue to the producers and it's been legal for years. 'Product Integration' it's called... sounds more polite.
Now all I've said so far may sound a little bit disconnected and perhaps a little discouraging, but in fact it's part of one big picture. What we used to call 'Television' will never look the same again, and for any producer starting or growing in 2006 you're going to have to think beyond what we used to use as our source of revenue... you've got to think beyond the terrestrial networks towards new platforms and new channels and to the outside world, or ultimately your business will not only die, it will never get started. But actually if you do, I actually think that the future (particularly in the North East actually, where costs are relatively cheap and ideas are certainly plentiful) I think the future could be very rosy indeed. But to make that future rosy you need to hang on to the control of those rights. They didn't in America (amazingly) and very few people know this is that there's virtually no independent production in America at all. Here's how it works over there... if you have a company it's unlikely to employ more than about three or four staff. If you're good and you're successful you'll be offered what's called an 'overall deal' with a studio... with Fox, NBC or whatever. That deal will give you a very big fee, probably a seven figure fee. It will pay your overheads and give you a very small share of the backend, which you frankly don't ever really expect to see, I've never met a producer who has ever received a share of a backend in America, because the studio takes all your rights, all your ideas, everything.
There are few, very few companies which survive without these exclusive deals. As a result now two interesting things happen in America. One, the producer never has the chance to create any asset value — no real ownership of his own intellectual property. So he never has anything to sell, he can't sell his company because it's not worth anything. So there are no 'super-indies' in America. If you give your studio a hit one year you can double your overall fee the following year, and if you fail then you can open a restaurant. Two, the second consequence is that American producers never look overseas. It's really very interesting and I think it's a real opportunity for UK producers which no-one has spotted.
Before I went to the US and I'd been living there on and off for the last three years, I always assumed the reason format sales were a one way street — that Britain was always the one that sold formats into America was frankly because I thought Americans were less creative. Ridiculous, I thought that!. I just thought they just don't have the ideas — it's nonsense. It's because American producers have signed away all their rights to the American studios, and because the American studios are only interested in the American networks because that's where the profit margins are, there's never been an incentive for an American producer to sell an idea overseas. In fact Americans come up with much better ideas than we do — they're fantastic, well thought through, considered, relevant and actually quite spot on for the UK market — but we never see them, thank God. The American networks spend around $250 million a year on pilots which will just be thrown away... it's part of the cost of doing business in America. Each network, every year, $250 million down the drain. It's part of the economy of being independent or a freelance in the US that you will spend most of your time making pilots that will never air, and because the broadcaster owns the rights to those pilots those pilots will never be offered outside the United States.
But now American producers are starting to wake up to the opportunities overseas, and there's a real opportunity for co-development, format sharing and other types of collaboration. One of the interesting things you find working for a multi-national organisation is just how global programme ideas really are. You know the biggest trend in the world right now? It's back to basics. Society has become too complex. The next generation down from the baby boom iare looking at the mistakes of my generation and saying "Why? Why have they made their lives so complicated? Why all the mortgages, why all the debt, why all the divorces, the angst?" So it's not surprising that creative people who have never met each other separately come up with Supernanny... all about family values. Wifeswap...all about family values. 30 Days, an American series by Supersize Me Morgan Spurlock about what it's like to live in a different society or situation, and at precisely the same time a drama writer was thinking "Maybe I could question all our social structures by stripping away the trappings of society and dump a plane load of passengers on a deserted island"... Lost. All the same theme. Now any of these shows could have been created anywhere, and with the right contact producers anywhere could create series ideas with great global potential.
I predict in the next 12 months there will be shows about ecological issues — it's fairly obvious isn't it? — about debt... how to simplify your life. 36% of all Americans are in debt over their head and can't do anything about it. There will be more series about how to make your life cleaner, more efficient, more human. America is crying out for good, thoughtfully-crafted ideas and formats springing from current popular culture. We can spot changes and trends in popular culture the same as the next person — we all use the same internet, we all listen to the same music releases, we can follow trends around the world — and ultimately a successful producer is one who senses the change in popular taste and reflects it in an innovative new format before his competitors read about it in the star magazines.
A couple of months ago (as I said) I was in New Zealand and I was speaking at their annual Producers Conference — their version of PACT — and one of the things I had to do was to chair a judging panel at a pitching contest. They were really great pictures and the one that came second I know is going to be made into a series over there. I know that because in Europe Endemol are also producing something that's almost the same format. It's about rubbish from Channel 4... it's about waste and how we waste and what we waste wasting it, I guess. Now Channel 4 has got the Endemol show and nobody in New Zealand knew that because it hadn't been sold into New Zealand yet. The amazing thing is that two New Zealand producers came up with exactly the same idea at the same time. How does that happen? Two people in New Zealand, so remote, came up with exactly the same idea at the same time as two producers from Endemol's creative team in Holland. The answer is that popular culture no longer has any borders. The same thing happens in fashion. Suddenly brown is the new black. Why? It's fashion. Designers don't compare notes, they don't go down to the equivalent of the Groucho Club and decide what's happening next. Gardening is the same. Amazing! Go to the Chelsea Flower Show — all the gold winning gardens will have the same underlying theme. One year it's wild flowers, next year it's 'grow cabbages under your roses'. It's the weirdest thing... they don't compare notes, it's fashion. It's completely affected the world's wine industry. What made the taste of wine drinkers the world over suddenly change in the last couple of years? Before everyone drank Chardonnay — heavily-oaked Chardonnay — and then suddenly the world decided it wanted something a little cleaner, more simple. Do we detect a theme here? They wanted to clear away the complexity of life and they wanted Sauvignon Blanc. My prediction? Pinot Gris next year!
It's no coincidence that Morgan Spurlock was making his film Supersize Me at exactly the same time that Jamie Oliver was pitching his school dinners concept. They'd both sensed, but they'd never met and there certainly was no mention of any of this in the newspapers or any of the style magazines. They sensed that people were beginning to be worried about childhood obesity and fast food, and they articulated it in two completely separate but b