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A New Category: Short Form Programme

21 May 2018
Event: Virgin TV British Academy Television AwardsDate: Sunday 13 May 2018Venue: Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, LondonHost: Sue Perkins-Area: Portraits BAFTA/Jay Brooks

A new category was introduced at the Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards in 2018: Short Form Programme. BAFTA's Awards team talk Toby Weidmann through the reasons for its creation.

It will come as no surprise to read that the way the public consumes its media, and especially television, has changed dramatically over the past decade or so. The proliferation of mobile devices and high-speed internet connected television sets in UK homes (two thirds of households, according to a recent report from trade body Ofcom), among other factors, has meant broadcasters and production houses have had to evolve their traditional methods of programming to account for this sea change. 

Long form television certainly isn’t going away any time soon, but there has been a move towards the commissioning of more short form over recent years. So much so that it has prompted BAFTA to introduce Short Form Programme as an individual category at this year’s Television Awards.

“It’s something we noted has become bigger and bigger,” says BAFTA’s head of television, Gemma Thomas. “Broadcasters have escalated their short form commissioning, especially via their online platforms, to attract viewers. This allows for a shift away from traditional channel scheduling and the confines of the historical half hour/hour-long formats.”

“The industry is constantly evolving and it’s important that BAFTA remains at the forefront, celebrating the very best programmes and performances and being relevant in the work that we reward,” adds Emma Baehr, BAFTA’s director of awards and membership. “Our Awards champion excellence across the British television industry, and the introduction of this new category shines a spotlight on the very best creative talent in the short form space.”

It may surprise some to learn that short form programmes have always been eligible for other categories at the Television Awards. However, the tricky part is how to make them competitive with more established long form juggernauts. They certainly don’t receive the same level of exposure as these high-profile series, something that BAFTA hopes the introduction of this category will help rectify.

 The full list of criteria for entry is linked below, but, ahem, in short, this new category recognises single shorts, short form series and shorts from a strand, which must be between three and 20 minutes long and been commissioned and premiered on an online and/or broadcast platform. Animation, comedy, current affairs, drama, entertainment, factual and sport programmes are all eligible.

Naturally, not everything short form is eligible, as Thomas explains: “If I filmed something on my phone right now and posted it to YouTube that doesn’t make it short form television. Anything that is self-commissioned, for example, needs to be reviewed by the Committee to see if it qualifies. This year it’s been quite clear cut, but there’s no hard and fast rule and ultimately it’s up to the Committee to decide. I’m sure the category will evolve over time, to reflect changes in the industry. We just need to ensure we’re not excluding anything that should be in there.”

It certainly helps that short form is awash with exciting new and emerging talent. “It’s often where new talent gets its big break,” says Thomas. “It gives them a platform and a voice.” This was the case with the inaugural winner of the category: Morgana Robinson’s Summer. Coming in at a rapid 11 minutes, this wonderful helping from Sky’s ‘Summer’ comedy strand boasts new and established talent in front of and behind the camera.

As the short’s writer, Sharon Horgan, remarked on the night: “We made this short, and a bunch of other shorts, so we could showcase female directors who weren't really getting an opportunity to make longer form programmes. We want to thank all those female directors for coming on this journey with us. There’s a whole new breed of female directing talent out there. It’s no big risk to work with them. The work will be better for it.”

If this is a sign of things to come for the category, we can’t wait to see next year’s nominations.

You can watch the Television Awards' backstage interview with the Morgana Robinson's Summer team here

Check the full list of eligibility requirements here