Trade body Pact, which represents U.K. indie production companies, has released two reports outlining how independent production has been hit by the pandemic, particularly small and medium companies.
In particular, new program commissions suffered the most with these accounting for just 30% of broadcasters’ spend. This is despite Channel 4 and ITV marginally increasing their spend on new commissions. The BBC spent the most overall on new commissions while Channel 5 spent the most proportionally.
Meanwhile a quarter of respondents to Pact’s survey about the impact of the pandemic revealed that one of their show’s had been cancelled between April 2020 and March 2021, with those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland most affected.
The Pact reports also showed that the BBC and Channel 4 commissioned and/or acquired the most content from outside of London.
The findings come at a crucial time for the industry, with the government considering privatizing Channel 4.
The Pact Census shows that, during 2020, U.K. TV production revenues fell to £2.9 billion ($), representing a 14% fall, (the lowest figure since 2017) while international revenues stayed above £1 billion despite falling by 13%. International revenues were buoyed by selling programmes and international primary commissions.
Domestically, a drop in commissioning spend by U.K. broadcasters saw the lowest spend since 2011 and resulted in a £257 million decline in revenues.
Although the SVOD production boom did lead to a growth of commissions from platforms including Netflix (who are currently filming “Bridgerton” season 2) and Amazon (who have embarked on a host of productions in Scotland), the rate of £356 million represented only a 6% growth year on year.
COVID delays and cancellations meant indies focused on secondary revenue streams, which increased to over £500 million
In terms of trends, entertainment commissions overtook drama in 2020, representing one third of commissioning spend, while spend on factual entertainment – a format that was more suited to navigating pandemic restrictions – went up by 5%,
The census also showed that spending on commissions outside of the capital had increased, particularly in Wales and South West England.
Pact also commissioned a Covid Long-Term Impact study, which showed that while indies, especially smaller ones, had managed to survive the initial fallout from the pandemic, thanks to measures such as the Government Production Restart Scheme, many are worried about the future particularly in the nearer term (102 years).
One of the most significant findings in the report was that 74% of indies want to expand beyond the free-to-air channels and actively target SVOD commissioners, despite free-to-air broadcasters commissioning 48% of U.K. productions.
In general, the numbers for pitching to U.K. broadcasters (up by 18%) and commissioning rate (up by 3%) were robust even though average response times to pitches slowed from 5.7 to 5.2 weeks.
“The industry has taken a big hit from the pandemic and we are still in the recovery phase,” said Pact CEO John McVay. “The Government’s Production Restart Scheme has played an important part in that recovery and it may take many years for the industry to build back to where it was prior to the pandemic.”
“In particular smaller, out of London companies have been detrimentally affected by the pandemic and with the future sale of Channel 4 on the cards, it’s those indies – who see Channel 4 as one of their primary buyers – who are going to suffer most,” he added.
“What these findings clearly show is that, whilst the Government Restart Scheme has been hugely successful in getting the production sector back to work, it hasn’t eradicated the severe financial impact Covid has had on the production sector,” said Pact Chair Hakan Kousetta, co-founder of 60Forty Films.
“With SMEs accounting for such a large proportion of production activity it’s vital that they are able to recover and build back to pre-pandemic levels. Extending the Government’s Production Restart Scheme past the end of the year will be essential to that, as will maintaining the existing commissioning ecology. We await to hear from Government on any extension; but we are also really concerned that the prospective sale of Channel 4 is going to have a very detrimental effect on an already battered and beleaguered sector.”
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