Prod'n incentives would benefit big-budget projects

LONDON — Blighty’s television sector could soon reap the benefits of a tax break — similar to the one the U.K. film biz already enjoys — in an attempt to prevent productions from lensing in overseas territories.

George Osborne, the U.K. chancellor, is expected to propose tax-breaks for high-end British dramas when he unveils the country’s 2012 budget next week.

It is believed that TV dramas with a budget in excess of £1 million ($1.6 million) could benefit from a 20%-25% tax credit and that the proposed scheme will operate along the same lines of the film tax relief, whereby projects would have to pass a cultural test to qualify as a U.K. production.

According to a report in the Financial Times, news of the proposed TV tax break surfaced during a visit by prime minister David Cameron and Osborne to the U.S. during a state dinner at the White House, which helped to boost the profile of Brit TV exports.

The expected announcement comes after lobbying by shingles, particularly drama lobby group TV Coalition, which all called for fairer terms for homegrown programs to lense in the U.K.

According to the FT, Osborne is concerned that other territories — such as Canada, Ireland and Eastern Europe — are taking jobs and expertise away from Blighty at a time when a raft of top notch dramas are clicking with auds.

Countries such as Ireland, which offers up to a 28% tax credit and housed filming for productions such as “Camelot” and “The Tudors,” and Canada and Hungary, both of which housed “Titanic,” the new production from “Downton Abbey” scribe Julian Fellowes, have become increasingly attractive locations for lensing productions thanks to forgiving tax breaks.

Left Bank Pictures’ “Strike Back,” based on the tomes by Chris Ryan, is produced in South Africa, which has a tax break of around 20%.

“This could be a shot in the arm that U.K. television production needs,” Left Bank topper and producer Andy Harries told Variety. “It would be fantastic for the industry as a whole as it will mean that overseas producers as well will look to the U.K. as a whole to shoot. And it’s brilliant to potentially give producers the choice to work in the U.K., so one doesn’t have to automatically think of Canada, Hungary or South Africa.”

Harries, whose shingle is also shooting TV series “Mad Dogs” in South Africa, added that if the tax scheme were to come to light, the shingle would consider finding a way to relocate the shoots to Blighty.

The U.K. is the world’s second largest exporter of drama series after the U.S. in terms of programming hours.

It is estimated that international sales of U.K. TV programs generated $2.23 billion in 2010, a figure up 13% from the previous year.

The industry employs around 21,000 and has revenues of $3.5 billion.

“British TV is second to none but unfortunately, time and time again, great British programs are being made overseas where the tax climate is more favorable,” commented Fellowes. “If the Budget can address this, it would be a fantastic move forward for our industry and the country as a whole, as a host of new productions would undoubtedly be produced here.”

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