Director of BBC Wales Rhodri Talfan Davies says that the organisation’s success depends on independent sector and pledges to keep commissioning to ensure a strong slate of programmes when lockdown restrictions lift.
In a live Q&A with Director of Creative Economy at Cardiff University, Sara Pepper, Rhodri talked about the impact COVID-19 has had on BBC Wales.
He said: “It has been profound – certainly in the first three weeks we were consumed by maintaining the news services and looking after the welfare of staff.
“That meant some radical changes as everything we knew about tv and radio production was upended. Metaphorically, thrown out of the window because of social distancing rules and the need to get people out of the office.”
Rhodri shared that within three days, 85% of BBC Wales staff were working from home and the newsroom reduced from 180 members of staff working in it at any one time to 30 people. Today, the entire Radio Wales schedule is presented from home on ‘technology that a month ago we wouldn’t have taken the risk on’.
He continued: “The only upside is that you get a real singularity of focus – everybody takes responsibility. There was a lot of innovation at every single level of the organisation. You see expertise across the organisation focusing on one single challenge.
“Organisations like the BBC can be quite divisional, everyone works in their own furrows, but in the last four weeks I’ve never seen a more unified workforce. Good public information and news can help save lives, and that is a very singular, energising and motivating force.
“Now, more than ever, there is an understanding that public service broadcasting is quite central to understanding the UK condition, and Wales’ condition.”
BBC Wales has recently announced commissioning and development opportunities to assist independent production companies in Wales during the COVID-19 crisis.
Explaining this response, Rhodri said: “It is really straightforward – historically, the BBC was largely driven by inhouse teams and commissioned itself to make its own shows. This has been utterly transformed in the last 10 years and our success, apart from in news and sport, is driven by the independent sector. Extraordinary programmes are made by colleagues in the independent sector. And success during this crisis depends on the independent sector.
“We can’t ride in like some kind of shining knight but we can keep commissioning. Making sure the machinery of commissioning keeps moving is crucial - it isn’t about handouts or grants – we need to make sure the rhythm of commissioning continues.
“When we come out of lockdown, we want to be ready for big ambitious programmes that we can get behind. And the way to do that is by working across the sector, with the best, to have a slate of strong programming.”
You can read more about these opportunities from Nick Andrews, Head of Commissioning for Wales, here. The existing BBC Small Indie Fund, to build sustainability outside of London and the South East, has also been doubled and Nick is working to identify companies in Wales who are best placed to access this fund.
Rhodri shared more about the interest they have received so far: “In audio more than video, lockdown creates a different creative space that you can still play with. In the pitches I have seen there has been real scope for radio drama and there is a real thoughtfulness. This question on how we return to normal. People are starting to think beyond the next 12 weeks and how that will impact on society is coming through in ideas.”
He was keen to stress that: “It isn’t just about commissioning; it is about partnership.”
In recent weeks, BBC Wales has announced a partnership with National Theatre Wales, Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and Sherman Theatre called Network. It is a digital opportunity for theatre makers.
Rhodri said: “With the Network project we’re providing some funding and a broadcast stage, but we can really lean in and be partners. This is being driven by the theatres.”
Network is taking a rolling approach are still looking for scripts and ideas that can be part of the project. Find out more here.
This commitment to partnership working is clear following their just-announced Machynlleth Comedy Festival collaboration. The festival will go ahead on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Sounds.
Rhodri said: “As time has passed, you begin to focus on the other issues – how do you give people more content to enjoy? We’re having Similar conversations around Eisteddfod…if you can’t do it on the maes, can you do it on the radio? How can we work with key national partnerships to provide something different?”
Concluding the interview, Rhodri encouraged the sector to continue this ‘live’ conversation if there is more BBC Wales could be doing.
He said: “What is really important is that we can do everything we possibly can to support the sector at a time of unprecedented challenge. It is everyone’s best interest to exit with a plan and the energy to get back our feet as quick as possible.
“I have never wanted BBC Wales to be a fortress which sits apart from the sector – we have to be open and porous and work with our partners. Our success ultimately hinges on the success of the sector.”
Rhodri also discusses when the television pipeline will dry up for broadcasters, productions which are going to be delayed and the approach BBC Wales are taking to freelancers with Sara. You can watch the full video above. Should you wish to receive the transcript of this video, please email email@example.com.
Sara Pepper, Director of Creative Economy at Cardiff University, said: “Many thanks to Rhodri for sharing the variety of commissioning and development opportunities that BBC Wales have brought together at speed to support and enable the creative and cultural industries creating and developing ideas and output during COVID-19.
“It was reassuring to hear how committed the BBC Wales team is to not only delivering coverage of what is happening and programmes to keep us entertained and educated, but also their approach to engaging with the creative sector during this time.
“It was particularly interesting to hear about their approach to not only addressing short term needs and opportunities, but also to consider the development of high quality and responsive ideas and output over the medium term too as we understand what life after lockdown looks like.”
The next In Conversation with… event will be with Phil George, Chair of Arts Council of Wales and Nick Capaldi, CEO of Arts Council of Wales about the funding support they have put in place for the creative sector during COVID-19. Details are here.
Please send any questions about their COVID-19 support to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our list of resources about the latest funding opportunities during COVID-19 can be found here, we continue to update this list as often as possible.
You can watch the first In Conversation with Creative Wales about their Television and Digital Emergency funds here.