Features, ads rise; FilmL.A. blames weak incentives for declines

TV production in Hollywood has continued to erode as incentives remain widely available elsewhere while California’s incentive program is relatively scanty, the top exec at the FilmL.A. agency asserts.

“For many years, we’ve relied on television to backfill the hole left by the flight of feature film production from the L.A. region,” said FilmL.A. president Paul Audley. “Television has been our bread and butter, but with Sacramento’s inaction to stem our losses, other states and countries are eating off our plate.”

Audley issued the statement along with a report on Hollywood’s offlot production, which saw TV slide 15.4% during the second quarter. Overall offlot production edged down 0.4% from the 2011 period as a 9.1% gain in features and a 28% hike in commercial activity took up most of the slack.

The Los Angeles area has been hardest hit by the departure of drama series, which generate $2 million-$3 million per segment — far more economic activity than from reality shows or sitcoms. The overall TV category fell by 819 days to 3,405, with dramas plunging 33% to 581 days.

Audley told Variety that New York has become the most popular destination for TV productions seeking incentives, noting that 11 shows wound up shooting in the Empire State last year. Other lensing locales include Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Hawaii, Illinois, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The report comes with the California Legislature considering bills to extend the state’s tax credit production incentive program, which provides $100 million annually in tax credits — far smaller than incentives offered by competing states and countries; only 28 of 332 eligible productions received California credits in the most recent round. A state Senate committee voted last week to approve the program — but with the recommendation that the program’s extension be reduced from five to two years, a year after the extension was cut from five years to a single year.

Audley said that TV producers are ditching California due to uncertainty over the fate of the 3-year-old incentive program, which could end as early as a year from now. “Producers are going elsewhere because they need to be able to rely on incentives for the life of the series,” he added.

Second-quarter reality shoots in Los Angeles slid 16.8% to 1,461. Sitcoms surged 35.6% to 274, and TV pilots jumped 36.8% to 253 days due to the pilot season’s later start this year.

TV comedies tend to remain in Los Angeles because of the shorter shooting schedules and producers’ reliance on writers to supply scripts quickly, Audley noted.

FilmL.A.’s annual pilot production report, released last month, projected that the major broadcast networks’ 2012-13 fall viewing season will include 47 Los Angeles-based shows (18 dramas, 29 comedies) and 24 shows (23 dramas and a single comedy) filmed outside Hollywood. It’s the first time in the history of the study, which dates back to 2004, that less than half of the primetime dramas have been shot in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles-based dramas amount to only 44% of the total dramas vs. 57% last fall and 58% two seasons ago. As of next mid-season, the drama share could be even smaller since only a single L.A.-based show was picked up as a midseason replacement while half a dozen dramas that were shot elsewhere were also picked up by the nets.

The California Film & Television Tax Credit Program brought five state-qualified TV projects to Los Angeles last quarter: “Major Crimes,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Rizzoli and Isles” and “Switched at Birth.” Those contributed 61 days, or 1.8% of total TV days logged during the quarter.

Feature production increased 9.1% for the quarter to 1,750 days, including 160 for films that qualified for the tax credit including “The Bling Ring,” “Look of Love” and “Stand Up Guys.”

Production in the commercials category increased 28.1% to 1,901 days. FilmL.A. cited the region’s continued strong performance from 2011 and upcoming Summer Olympic Games as a likely driver.

Second-quarter overall offlot production was also at the same level in 2010 with 11,134 days. It surged in 2008 to 13,982 days when the business roared back following the conclusion of the Writers Guild of America’s 100-day strike with 2,482 days in features and a stunning 5,765 in TV.

Since 2009, features have gained steadily with 1,383 days, followed by 1,542 in 2010, 1,604 in 2011 and 1,750 in the just-concluded quarter. TV is far below the 2008 peak of 5,765 days with 3,998 days in 2009, 4,052 in 2010, 4,024 in 2011 and 3,405 in the 2012 period.

Last week’s activity gained 15% to 657 days with feature activity jumping 20% to 200 days — one of the top weeks of the year with “Doobious Sources” leading the way with 16 days. TV activity declined 22% to 237 days; “Sons of Anarchy” was the most active series with 16 days.

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