I have to come out in fierce support of the stance taken by BBC director of acquisitions George McGhee on the increasingly thorny subject of Neighbours. As it’s looking more likely that the Beeb will lose the soap it has shown since 1986, McGhee has told Broadcast:
“If a deal is not reached in the very, very near future, we will withdraw the money and move it elsewhere.”
with strong indications that their decision to move funds into other avenues could be made by the end of the week.
It’s been rumoured that the BBC had been willing to increase their fee for a single episode of the soap from £20,000 to £70,000, which is some £10,000 shy of the figure allegedly offered by ITV to snap up the Australian Channel Ten show. The sticking point for ITV moving forward on a deal are problems over Video on Demand rights, which could leave the door open for Five to step in and secure the rights.
Of course, should the BBC lose the rights to Neighbours, the press will pounce on the story, accusing Auntie of becoming increasingly weak in light of other recent rights losses such as the FA Cup. If anything, I believe this shows the BBC to be strong and displaying a responsible policy on how licence payers’ money should be spent. Fremantle become the bad guys in this case, heads turned by the size of Michael Grade’s chequebook (and let’s remember, that’s by no means bottomless).
Above all, if what we are hearing is true, I find it a very sad state of affairs. If Neighbours hadn’t found an audience in the UK, then it’s very likely that the cheap-as-chips soap would have been cancelled years ago. It has never rated particularly highly in its native land, regularly losing out to Home and Away. Thanks to an already more than generous cash injection from Auntie (I find it hard to believe that an episode of Neighbours actually costs more than 20 grand!), its life has been extended longer than it probably deserved.
If Neighbours goes elsewhere and fails to find a reasonable audience share (it has 40 percent of the viewing audience from the current lunchtime showing) Fremantle will be as good as killing a nice little cash cow through nothing more than somebody coming along and flashing a big wad of cash at them.