BBC’s roster review has provoked fresh allegations about Red Bee Media’s dominance as a creative consultant to the broadcaster, Gina Lovett reports
Like free-pitching, the age-old conundrum of public sector procurement and getting on to rosters is a somewhat jaded design discussion that will rage on for ever more. Designers these days tend to be resigned to the fact that jumping through hoops and wrangling through red tape is all part of the job, and most doggedly plod on with the process, doing what they can.
The BBC’s recent review of its design roster, however, is a hot potato that has once again stoked the fire. Among the screen design community, in particular, rumblings of discon – tent about an uneven playing field and the dominance of one group on that roster – Red Bee Media – are recurring.
Allegations range from the BBC’s former in-house unit winning an array of financially beneficial contracts, to claims of work being ‘handed out’ instead of being competitively tendered among rostered groups.
It is easy to see why some consultancies might feel res – entment. Since its formation in 2005 as a result of Australian investment bank Macquarie Capital Alliance Group’s acquisition of BBC commercial division BBC Broadcast, the group has taken on some of the public broadcaster’s most high-profile design projects.
Since becoming an indepen – dent and private group, born out of the BBC, Red Bee Med – ia has rebranded BBC One, BBC Three, CBBC and BBCflag ship current affairs prog – ramme Panorama, refreshed idents for BBC London News, and crea ted the BBC’s title sequence for its coverage of the Beijing Olympics, all of which Red Bee Media and the BBC say were fairly pitched for. Rostered consultancies including Lam bie-Nairn, The Partners and Fallon are known to have competed for the work.
Red Bee Media, which incorporates divisions across services including playout and media management, access, language localisation and list – ings, as well as creative, has lost out on projects to other cons ultancies too.
It missed out on the opportunity to refresh BBC’s radio station identities to ad agency Fallon last year; the branding of BBC iPlayer to The Partners in 2006; and this year’s rebranding of BBC News went to Lambie-Nairn.
Though it is not known exactly how many strategic and identity design projects out of a possible total Red Bee Media has won, it does seem to have lost relatively few by compari – son. So, is it a case of Red Bee Media being the strongest creative and technical contender that allows it to win pitches time and time again, or does it, as some within the industry claim, have unfair advantage?
Those within Red Bee Media point out that what has been widely perceived among the screen design industry as a ‘favourable’ contract for Red Bee Media – the long-standing agreement between the BBC and Red Bee Media to supply certain services back to its former owner until 2015, and part of the deal when BBC sold BBC Broadcast to Macquarie – is completely separate from any roster contract.
‘The design business in Red Bee has no contracted revenue from the BBC, distinct from other businesses within Red Bee which do have long-term contracts in place for core services such as playout or subtitling. These contracts were guaranteed to the purchaser of Red Bee at the point of sale three years ago.
As such, BBC revenues in this area account for less than 30 per cent of the design business turnover,’ says Red Bee Media head of design Jeff Conrad.
Those within Red Bee Media also point out that while it is housed within the BBC’s White City Media Centre, the group has grown its own range of skills and expertise across technical services and products– including digitising, storage and content delivery resource Digital Hive, multi-platform navigation tool Sherpa, On Demand Cont ent Distribution and 3D sports graphics system Piero – off its own back. The development of these products has enabled it to bolster its overall offer.
However, given the amount of work being picked up by Red Bee Media, it is no surprise that the disgruntled are asking exactly how many branding and design contracts the BBC has awarded to Red Bee Media, what the value of these contracts was, and how they were awarded.
Efforts by the aggrieved to unearth this information under the Freedom of Information Act in recent months have proved unfruitful on the basis that such revelations would prejudice the commercial interests of both the public service broadcaster and Red Bee Media.
Design Week has asked the BBC for further details of how, and on what criteria, it awards projects to consultancies on its design roster, and, though unable to answer questions specifically at the time of going to press, it is currently endeav – our ing to obtain the information. It reassures us that it operates under EU procurement law.
• Red Bee Media creates title sequence for the BBC’s coverage of the Beijing Olympics (August
• BBC News rebrands under Lambie-Nairn (April)
• BBC Three undergoes £750 000 rebrand designed by Red Bee Media (January)
• BBC relaunches its national radio stations under identities created by Fallon. The advertising agency clinches the £120 000 contract following a four-way pitch (August 2007)
• Red Bee Media refreshes visual identity and idents for CBBC (August 2007)
• Abbott Mead Vickers designs BBC Two on-screen look, with production by Red Bee Media (February 2007)
• BBC One’s Panorama gets a Red Bee Media refresh, after a seven-way pitch (January 2007)
• Red Bee Media designs logo, brand, on-screen identity and pro – motions for BBC’s trial of high-definition television (June 2006)
• BBC brands iPlayer, with the help of The Partners. (May 2006)
• Red Bee Media redesigns BBC One’s idents, following a pitch against Lambie-Nairn, Wolff Olins and Attik (March 2006)
• Red Bee Media redesigns the idents for BBC London News (January 2006)