New BBC Film Unit Will Focus on US, World

The British Broadcasting Corporation is creating a new film division that will develop projects with American producers and distributors for theatrical release in the US and elsewhere in the world, according to an official announcement made April 4 in London. The new division is part of a corporate restructuring that will free up $318.5 million annually for dramatic programming, according to the BBC's new director general, Greg Dyke.

Several layers of bureaucracy—most of them in middle management—will be stripped in the restructuring, Dyke said. Unnecessary duplication of work will be eliminated, and hundreds of jobs may be lost, but Dyke hopes the effort will increase the available portion of the BBC's annual budget for new programming from the current 76% to 85%. Britain's nationalized broadcasting service has a yearly budget in excess of $4 billion.

No specific film projects were mentioned at the press conference, but Dyke said that new films will be funded by pooling resources, including taxpayer funds intended for BBC Television and BBC Worldwide, and by drawing on outside sources. "We think there are significant opportunities in film, entrepreneurial opportunities," Dyke said. "People are proud of the BBC, but there is a lingering feeling that we move too slowly." His vision is that the BBC will assume a far larger role in the worldwide film industry than it now occupies.

As part of the restructuring, former BBC director of television Alan Yentob has been placed in charge of all drama and entertainment. Yentob says he wants to create "a range of films of sufficient scale that will provide a platform for British talent and other talent as well." Joint ventures with US studios are a natural move for the BBC, he said, because "British film talent already has a foothold in the US."