I’d suggest that there is an emerging picture of where UK production is likely to head in the next few years, and it’s one that should worry us – particularly from the point of view of cultural diversity (which is not only a social and ethical issue)
On the one hand, we have a very rosy picture of high production levels in the UK, fuelled by vast SVoD investment – lots of new studio space opening up, everyone busy, wages rising, etc. All very good… in the short term. Our members should be very happy…. as long as they don’t care about the cultural content of what they work on, or the sustainability of the sector. However, they generally do care about these things.
Our longer-term prospects may be about to be hit by a perfect storm – and in this instance, this may be the worst time to consider privatisation of Channel Four. That perfect storm includes, but is not limited to….
- The possible privatisation of Channel Four, weakening, or even depriving the UK of an important incubator
- The gradual weakening of the BBC as a valuable incubator
- The relative decline of UK commissions as a % of UK production – which also prices UK production out of the market thanks to capacity being swallowed up by SVoDs
- The decline in deficit-financed production at the expense of content that is wholly commissioned, owned and distributed by companies like Netflix – thereby depriving the UK of valuable IP (a bigger problem than most acknowledge in my opinion)
- A similar shift to easy-to-insure productions as we come out of the Covid pandemic – self-insured productions have a real advantage here at the expense of locally created deficit-financed productions.
- The possibility that UK production will lose its classification as ‘a European Work’ in the EU’s AVMS quota system – also a potential post-Brexit bombshell
- Any trade-wars and competitive tax incentives that other countries could involve us in, now Brexit is ‘done’…
- The perceived willingness of Studios to produce in the UK – even though the studios may have pre-booked, invested and taken stakes in all of the big studio spaces, this doesn’t mean that they have to stay here. Those obligations could disappear the moment the incentives are removed. (Or, more succinctly, ‘the circus may leave town very suddenly‘)
- the growing consolidation of media ownership into a handful of non-UK corporations – Global media consolidation is already unhealthy and this will increase it (Virgin Media and O2’s merger, Disney has acquired 21st Century Fox). Without the BBC and C4 the UK will be without a global flag-carrier
- The slow inevitable decline of linear TV content (i.e. people watching scheduled TV programmes and not SVoD)
- The shift from cinema to SvOD means less investment in long-form (it is just about possible to raise £30m investment in a UK project) to longer-form SVoD series which cost $100s of millions – out of the reach of many deficit financers, so v bad for the UK
All of this means fewer UK scripts shooting UK actors in UK scenarios, and plots that UK audiences can relate to. Because the UK has always led the world in this, we have high expectations here. A decline will be unusually unpopular here.
I keep coming across factors that add to this narrative and I’ll keep adding them here when I see them.