Good afternoon Insiders, here we go again with a busy old week in TV and film. Max Goldbart penning the newsletter. Read on and sign up here.
Bad Times For The BBC
Déjà vu: When you’ve been doing this for a little while, nothing gives off more of a sense of déjà vu than BBC budget woes. It always starts the same way. A downtrodden UK Prime Minister desperately seeks a distraction hook and latches on to the nation’s favorite (ish) broadcaster, in this case saying over the weekend that the public cannot afford the previously-agreed inflationary rise to the licence fee next year that would have seen the fee shoot up by nearly £15 ($18.90). Several days and one new chair appointment later, and the sentiment was confirmed by Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, who said the fee will instead rise by just more than £10, as the government shifted the goalposts. While an extra £10 per person doesn’t look too bad at first glance, the move is set in context of two years’ worth of licence fee freeze, rampant inflation in production costs and stiff competition. Put bluntly, the BBC really needs more money. Unveiling yet another government review into the BBC’s future funding model, Frazer also pointed out that fewer people are paying the licence fee nowadays. This means that stiff hikes put more pressure on those who still do pay, but the BBC would likely flip the point and say fees should rise by even bigger amounts if fewer people are paying them. The BBC’s grave response said it all: “Our content budgets are now impacted, which in turn will have a significant impact on the wider creative sector across the UK.”
“Destabilizing”: The move leaves the BBC with an estimated shortfall of £90M, alongside the hundreds of millions of savings it already needs to make, and more cuts in programing are no doubt coming — “Inevitably program expenditure will be cut first,” said one connected source. But insiders are not only peeved by the inevitable hit to the coffers. If the government is now going to decide annually how much the licence fee rises by — rather than sticking to a pre-agreed 11-year long inflationary rise — two insiders pointed out that this will make budgeting for the following year incredibly difficult. Not only that, but it also leaves the BBC more exposed to political agendas. There are intricacies to the changes to the inflationary measure but the government has effectively pegged this year’s rise to September 2023’s figure, as opposed to the average across the past year. It all feels a bit random. There is little the BBC technically can do but work may begin behind the scenes to mount a campaign to convince the government that it is in no one’s interests to continually mess around with the figure. Jake spoke to insiders and his analysis has more. The BBC statement’s stress on the impact on the “wider creative sector” felt pertinent.
Musical chairs: Before the licence fee decision became official, there was the small matter of the new BBC Chair, who was unveiled Wednesday as British TV vet Samir Shah. Shah has previously spent years working for the BBC, runs an independent production company and has advised the government on numerous matters. He is well-liked and well-known, although perceived by some as a slightly surprising choice. Prior to the licence fee decision being announced by Frazer, one source close to the government said Shah had been working closely with the Culture, Media and Sport department of late and was “aligned” with these funding plans. He joins with a busy in-tray and with a need to regain trust in the BBC following the Richard Sharp debacle, which saw the previous Chair forced to resign over his role in a loan facilitation for Boris Johnson. And whether a help or a hindrance, Shah comes from a media family. His brother Mohit Bakaya runs BBC Radio 4 and his sister Monisha Shah is on the Ofcom content board.
Cultural test: Elsewhere in public broadcaster land, ITV chose the moments after Frazer’s Commons speech to publish its long awaited review into Phillip Schofield, the former This Morning presenter who resigned after admitting to an affair with a much younger colleague. ITV may have been hoping licence fee woes would act as a distraction but the actual contents of the report didn’t appear to give the broadcaster too much to worry about. Following more than 50 interviews, the review’s author rejected the much-raised notion of a “toxic culture” on This Morning and scotched the idea that Schofield’s affair had been an open secret. It would have been a big problem for ITV had it been deemed the opposite. Jane Mulcahy KC listed a number of recommendations including the forging of a “talent charter” for high-profile presenters of Schofield’s ilk that would set “out key standards ITV expects to be upheld.” With Schofield’s co-host Holly Willoughby having also departed, ITV will be hoping it can close this particular chapter. The BBC’s equivalent — a report into behavior by newsreader Huw Edwards — publishes soon. And would you look at that, we’ve managed to go an entire Insider public broadcasting lead without mentioning Channel 4…
Riding The Red Sea Wave
Star power: Saudi Arabia’s third Red Sea International Film Festival handed out its prizes overnight with Pakistani-Canadian director Zarrar Khan’s horror picture In Flames winning Best Film. The jury led by Baz Luhrmann was joined on the red carpet by some serious star power in Halle Berry, Andrew Garfield, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicolas Cage and Henry Golding, among others. They followed in the wake of a raft of A-Listers making the trip to the festival’s Red Sea port home of Jeddah over the past week, including Johnny Depp, Will Smith and Chris Hemsworth. Beyond the glitz of the red-carpet galas at the festival’s Ritz Carlton hub, the ‘place to be’ was the Vox Cinema multiplex in Jeddah’s Red Sea Mall. The venue hosted a series of intimate In Conversations with the likes of Smith, Cage and Berry as well as packed out screenings of local and regional features. Highlights of the latter included the Saudi premiere of Riyadh-set social thriller Mandoob, which met with a rapturous response from a youthful audience. The drama is the latest feature from rising local studio Telfaz11, which scored a box office hit with free-wrestling comedy Sattar earlier this year. Mandoob, revolving around a night courier who falls foul of an alcohol smuggling ring, has all the ingredients to achieve similar success. Another Saudi highlight was Tawfik Alkaidi’s drama Norah, about a young girl growing up in a remote farming community in the 1990s, at the height of the crackdown on cinema and other arts. Luhrmann was spotted quietly slipping into the screening, reportedly watching the work for a second time. The film appealed to local and international spectators alike, with one critic in the room declaring it should be Saudi Oscar submission next year. Just six years after Saudi Arabia lifted its 35-year cinema ban, its filmmakers are coming into their own. Deadline was out in force at the festival this year and you can read all our coverage here.
‘Crown’s Off To Them
Final hurrah: Whatever you think of The Crown and its various controversies, there is no doubt Netflix’s smash is one of the defining TV series of this generation. So it was no surprise that this week’s final season premiere hurrah was as glitzy as they come. Our roving International Editor-at-Large Baz Bamigboye strode the red carpet with queens, princes and princesses past and present, with an attendee list including but not limited to Imelda Staunton, Olivia Colman, Dominic West, Elizabeth Debicki, Jonathan Pryce, Gillian Anderson, Emma Corrin, Erin Doherty, Jason Watkins and Jonny Lee Miller. Speaking to Baz, current lead Staunton detailed how things had both changed and stayed the same following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II last year, explaining: “[The Queen] got on with it and I took great comfort in that.” Baz and his fellow Crown attendees were then treated to the premiere of the final episode, one that was slightly altered by creator Peter Morgan following the Queen’s death. It ended in rapturous applause. This doyen of British TV shows is almost at its end and, while its creative team are no doubt looking forward to leaving the limelight for a bit, it will certainly be missed. Check out the full picture gallery here.
Spotlight On Singapore
Reporting from AFT: Sara Merican was on the ground at Singapore’s Asia TV Forum & Market (ATF) this week and there was plenty for readers to get their teeth into. High-profile attendees discussed the issues of the day, including those that dominated the agenda of the recent WGA/SAG negotiations such as AI and dealmaking. Chinese streaming giant iQiyi hailed the integration of artificial intelligence into its development and pitching processes (“We can turn 2,000,000 words in a novel into an 8,000-word document that outlines the plot and includes character analyses,” said Chief Content Officer Wang Xiaohui), while execs from some of the world’s biggest production houses posited that Hollywood dealmaking has become more reliant on the international market. These weighty proclamations came as a report into the Korean streaming industry found subs had grown once again in the nation to around 19 million, coming as the local market braces for the merger of Tving and Wavve as they battle to take on the big American players. And check out this killer scoop from Liz, who broke the news that Parasite production outfit Barunson E&A is moving into the burgeoning Indonesian film industry.
Bye Bye Benjamin
“A proud Brummie and a proud Peaky Blinder”: Thoughts to the family of Benjamin Zephaniah, the iconic British poet and Peaky Blinders star who has died aged 65. Zephaniah was known for his radical and often deeply political poetry, his love for Jamaica, and his powerful and soulful delivery. He famously turned down an OBE, writing: “No way, Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.” He was simply an inspiration for original thinkers. Born into a poor family, he left school in Birmingham at age 13 unable to read or write but used a typewriter to teach himself both skills. At this point he was already performing poetry live, and his unique style helped him become an influential voice in Black politics and identity, leading to meetings with the likes of Nelson Mandela and The Wailers. Tributes came flooding in about a man who touched all corners of British society. In a statement issued to Deadline, Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy called Benjamin a “proud Brummie and a Peaky Blinder.”
🌶️ Hot One: Danny Dyer is leading Marching Powder from new UK distributor True Brit; read our exclusive interview with True Brit’s Zygi Kamasa here.
🌶️ Another: Netflix is poised to greenlight French and German versions of reality format Surviving Paradise.
🌶️ Another one: Jean-Claude Van Damme is starring in Kill ‘Em All 2, which will shoot in Antigua from Jan.
⛰️ Summit: UK children’s TV bods will gather early next year to explore how to resuscitate the ailing sector.
😠 Grant grumps: Curmudgeonly Love Actually lead said he “hated” playing an oompa-loompa in Wonka.
🏕️ Festival latest: Cannes Market has named Switzerland as 2024’s Country of Honor.
🏕️ More festivals: EFM boss Dennis Ruh talked us through changes at the Berlinale Series Market.
✂️ Cuts: Canada’s CBC/Radio-Canada is laying off 10% of its staff and the nation’s media guild is “shocked.”
🖕🏼 Excuse me?: A BBC News presenter was caught giving the middle finger to camera in an on-air gaffe.
🤝 Done deal: Letterkenny creator Jared Keeso signed a first-of-its-kind content pact with Crave & New Metric.
🖊️ Signed up: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, director of Kill, put pen to paper with WME.
🏪 Setting up shop: Hollywood’s The Gotham Group outside the U.S.
🍿 Box office: Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer has been confirmed for a theatrical release in Japan.
🌎 Global breakout: Nancy was on hand to spotlight Thai horror Tee Yod.
🖼️ First look: At The Traitors UK Season 2, launching January 3.
Melanie Goodfellow contributed to this week’s Insider