Hall fall down: The BBC gives up Proms filming

In one of the biggest breaches with its music traditions, the BBC on Friday awarded the contact for filming the Proms for the next two to a start-up independent production company with no classical experience.

The winning bidder, Livewire Pictures, was established only last year.

The decision is a shocking departure from BBC dependability by a chain of decision makers that runs from the head of music Jan Younghusband all the way up to the DG, Lord Hall. It is a seriously bad day for the BBC.

We will give you the BBC’s official version down below. But first read this internal round-robin:

This message has been sent to all Production colleagues in the UK.

Hi all,

You may have already seen the news about the Proms tender outcome today. For those who haven’t: BBC Commissioning have informed us that Livewire Pictures has been awarded the two-year contract.

Our colleagues in our music production team are, understandably, extremely disappointed – as are both Suzy and I. The team have worked so hard and have done an amazing job for many years delivering one of the absolute highlights of the music calendar. Their Proms programming has not simply been coverage. It is a world-class exemplar of how television can help shape, develop and enhance a cultural event, whilst enticing and educating newcomers to classical music along the way. They are responsible for building it into what it is today and can afford to be extremely proud of the shape they’re handing it over in. Of course that – as well my belief and confidence in the strong pitch they put together – will offer little consolation for coming a close second.

I know I won’t be alone in needing some time to come to terms with this news. Eventually, the more detailed feedback we’ll be seeking from Public Service will no doubt contain important lessons for us to take forward. However our one and only focus now is supporting all of the people – our colleagues – who are affected. We will do everything to make the next steps as smooth as they possibly can be.

Please join me in offering your support for colleagues in Entertainment & Music. They deserve huge praise for the work they have done on the Proms and on our music programming in general.

As Fran Kemp – Executive Producer of the programme – so eloquently summarised when the team were told earlier: our view of the Proms should not be defined by today’s news but by 35 years of brilliant and highly acclaimed broadcasts.

Best wishes,


Ralph Lee

Director of Content

OK, got that? Now for the BBC’s spin:

The BBC is today announcing that after a competitive process Livewire Pictures has secured the tender to produce TV coverage of the BBC Proms.
This contract for the 2019 and 2020 seasons is for TV coverage of the Proms only. The commissioning and production of the concerts themselves remains with the BBC Proms team which sits within the BBC’s Radio and Education Division. The BBC will retain all intellectual property rights for the programmes, which will continue to be shown across BBC Television as they have been in previous years. The Proms coverage on Radio 3 is not impacted by this tender.

TV coverage of the Proms was previously made by BBC Studios and the tendering of returning series currently produced by BBC Studios forms part of the Compete Or Compare strategy launched by the BBC in 2014, which underlined the BBC’s commitment to commission the best programmes for audiences, regardless of who makes them. The tender process began in June 2018.

The bid from Livewire Pictures was considered to be the strongest from a field of six eligible producers who submitted proposals.

Jan Younghusband, Head of Music TV Commissioning, says: “There was a very competitive field for this tender but we believe this bid will deliver the best coverage of the Proms on television for our audiences. The BBC’s Proms Concert Season itself will be unaffected by this change. The winning bid offered the appropriate mix of innovative new ideas and respect for the rich history and traditions of the BBC Proms.”

The contract covers TV coverage of the Proms in 2019 and 2020 and includes:

A minimum of 24 BBC Proms concerts including;
– 22 concerts on BBC Four
– First Night of the Proms on BBC Two
– Last Night of the Proms on BBC Two and BBC One including the performance capture of Proms in the Park but does not include the capture for the BBC Proms events in the Nations
Full capture of Proms in the Park and the Radio 2 Festival in a Day for the BBC’s digital and online platforms (via BBC Red Button, the BBC iPlayer and the Radio 2 website)
Seven weekly critical review shows, currently known as Proms Extra on BBC Two.


For shame.

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  • Norman do your homework. The division for Livewire is headed by Ben Weston who produced the Proms on TV for several years whilst working at the BBC. Not only that he has made exceptional films about classical music. Look before you leap… GG

    • Gill, the BBC made nothing of this in their attempt to sell the deal. That suggests they are somewhat embarrassed at paying a former employee twice as much to do his job, not to mention the premium for his new employers. The reason the Proms work is mostly down to BBC ethos and collective commitment. Remove that and you have a recipe for chaos. And a very bad deal for the licence payer.

      • Norman is correct. I directed Proms cameras for 42 consecutive years both as a BBC staff member and subsequently as a freelance.The downward slide continues. High quality in future TV Proms will be down to existing or former producers and directors. Not untrained, twitchy-fingered, fast cutting, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed amateurs.

      • You are right, Norman. Whatever the reasoning behind this decision it is not to improve quality. The audio for tv was contracted out a while back and it is consistently mushy with next to no dynamic range. You hear more detail of harps, percussion and a few individual players than you do of the big integrated sound of a symphony orchestra. The strings usually sound like an angry string quartet.

      • Seems unlikely that the BBC would be embarrassed to mention Ben Weston when it mentions Guy Freeman, who left the BBC more recently than Ben did. And the BBC is not paying Ben, he’s not a freelancer. Livewire is contracted to produce a set number of programmes for an agreed price. How much Ben is paid is not a BBC decision and none of its business.

    • Younghusband? Indeed. What I know of that serial [redacted] could not be published without getting Norman into trouble. But it will all come out one day.

      One has to ask what she has on Tony Hall, given that he is more than aware of her history and yet she continues to be employed.

  • The BBC official release states, “The bid from Livewire Pictures was considered to be the strongest from a field of six eligible producers who submitted proposals.” I presume that, by “strongest”, the BBC means cheapest in providing the bare minimum requirements of the tender. Additionally, what are the “innovative new ideas” [sic] that the BBC’s own team could not offer? (BTW, I thought all innovative ideas were ‘new’! This tautological error, from the BBC of all organisations, smacks of desperation in trying to sell the award to viewers and listeners.) I also note that call-outs for regional Proms in the Park events during the Last Night TV coverage have been abandoned; were these not part of the brief?

    • The regional Proms in the Park concerts were not part of the brief – they are made by production teams in the regions and have not been abandoned.

  • I may be wrong, but I thought that much of the broadcast staffing and facilities provision at the Proms has been from outside the BBC for years anyway (even if many personnel were ex-BBC). This might be a different company name to those we are used to, and a different way of announcing it, but I don’t see what the fundamental change really is here?

    • The big change is that production management and editorial control of the programmes are now outside the BBC. You are right, much of the rest of production and crew are outside already.

  • The phrase “if it aint broke, don’t fix it” springs to mind. In my view there was nothing wrong with the television coverage of the proms. I may be pessimistic, but I fear the worst.

  • The BBC, last time I checked, was financed by a special tax on TV purchases. Radio France is the same. Since people are buying fewer TVs these days, both are scrambling to lower costs. Lacking details, we can’t be sure this is the reason for this out-sourcing.

    • We still pay our radio and television licence to the BBC monthly in Britain, which also keeps the adverts off all BBC channels. That fee also funds the wonderful World Service. And some of us don’t change our televisions the same way as some would change their mobile phones! My television is 14 years old and other people’s are even older. Nothing to do with the compulsory licence fee but there has to be accountability unlike Virgin and Sky-type subscriptions. Being a good deal for the licence payers and holding onto the tried and tested BBC ethos is paramount.

  • No money kickbacks, if it’s done by own staff.
    External contractor: time for some cash back into black wallets.
    Some extra scrutiny in auditing BBC managers in charge is in order.
    It’s always about the money…

  • Don’t blame the BBC entirely. This sort of outsourcing is what is expected by the Tories. The public sector (which the BBC is considered part of) is never to be trusted, because obviously the private sector is much much more efficient and effective. Right?

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