Incoming BBC director general Greg Dyke has pledged to create a new film division as part of a far-reaching overhaul of the UK broadcaster.
The film operation will come under the auspices of Alan Yentob, the former director of television, who now heads a newly-created division spanning drama, entertainment and children. With Dyke's restructuring aimed at freeing up an extra £200m ($318 million) for programmes next year, the budget for films may also be boosted.
Although speculation only months ago revolved around whether Dyke would even want to support film, a BBC statement said that Yentob, a long-time supporter of film at the broadcaster, will oversee "a significant new film division". BBC insiders see Dyke's commitment as the clearest support that they have known from the broadcaster's top-level management for film activities.
"This is terrific news for BBC Films because it gives us support right from the top of the BBC and the ability to move forward with strength and commitment," said head of BBC Films and Single Drama David Thompson.
Yentob has about three months to devise a plan for his entire division, which is likely to focus on how he will work with the heads of different areas within his remit. Thompson, who previously had about £10m a year for films, is expected to continue heading film activities, reporting to Yentob.
For film, the most significant structural change that seems likely - although by no means certain - is separating film and drama. One potential scenario would see film operating as a separate unit drawing on talent and material from drama, entertainment and children's programming and allowing talent working in those areas to grow into film. Maybe Baby, for example, is a feature directed by TV and stand-up comedian Ben Elton from an adaptation of his own book.
However, the often-mooted move of spinning off feature activities into a stand-alone venture similar to rival broadcaster Channel 4's FilmFour now seems highly remote, although few are ruling out such an initiative completely.
Dyke is widely expected to want films to be focused on attracting as many viewers as possible. While the BBC has recently backed such critically well-received titles as Ratcatcher, it also developed more commercially-oriented projects such as Michael Winterbottom's £15m Kingdom Come. Additionally, the broadcaster backed Love, Honour & Obey, which opens in the UK this weekend with a hefty distribution push from United International Pictures.
Dyke's commitment to film comes after commercial arm BBC Worldwide dramatically bolstered the broadcaster's investment in the sector, pledging to invest about £8m a year to BBC films for the next five years. The BBC has also secured additional financing for features through Harvest Pictures, a private investment fund that raised about £7m though tax-relief initiative the Enterprise Investment Scheme. Additionally, Worldwide struck an output deal with UK distributor Redbus Film Distribution.
Yentob's department is one of four newly-created divisions - including factual and learning, sport and news. Mark Thompson - director of national and regional broadcasting - has been promoted to Yentob's former position, effectively becoming Dyke's number two.
Yentob's move has been seen as a demotion, although he takes up what is understood to be the most senior creative post at the broadcaster, overseeing film and entertainment. Some observers read even Yentob's appointment as a statement of Dyke's commitment to film.
Hundreds of the BBC's 20,000 staff are expected to lose their jobs in middle management across the broadcaster as a result of the overhaul, which is aimed at cutting red tape and reducing the cost of running the corporation from 24% to 15% of annual revenues. An extra £100m could be spent on programmes this year alone. The BBC is also under government pressure to save £1.2bn over the next seven years.
Dyke is also to take a more hands-on approach, with 17 smaller directorates reporting directly to him and abolishing six former divisions.
Dyke is also scrapping the notorious divide between the Broadcast division, which commissions programmes, and the Production division, which makes the programmes - a divide which was established by his predecessor John Birt.