×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Brexit Hangs Over U.K., European Entertainment Business

By the time the TV and film worlds descend on Cannes for next April’s MipTV and the film festival in May, Britain will no longer be a member of the European Union. “Brexit” officially happens March 29, 2019.

But less than 11 months before that seismic event, the likely impact on the film and TV business in Blighty and Europe remains almost a complete unknown. As in so many divorce cases, negotiations between British and EU officials have been slow and acrimonious.

“It’s schizophrenic,” Adrian Wootton, head of the British Film Commission and Film London, says of the mood in entertainment circles. “On one hand … there is a real fear in the independent film industry and television about issues around whether [British] film and TV qualifies as European, the circulation of that material around Europe and status of EU citizens working here.

“On the other hand, with the exchange rate being what it is and with tax breaks in place, we are absolutely one of the biggest go-to places in the world for people to make film and television programs at the moment. We are seeing a volume of demand that is not letting up.”

Film and TV production spending hit a record $4 billion last year, and studios including Pinewood, Shepperton and Leavesden are expanding. A new site is being built in Barking, in East London.

The overwhelming majority of production staffers are Brits. But in the visual effects, post-production and animation sectors, up to 40% of personnel are non-British, making the free movement of labor post-Brexit a key issue. Requiring EU citizens — who don’t need visas to live and work in Britain — to go through the existing visa system for foreign skilled workers could result in fewer being allowed in. The current visa process is considered slow, expensive and ill-suited to a sector where experience and reputation count for more than paper qualifications.

Another unresolved area, channel licensing, is leaving Britain vulnerable to poachers. Some European countries have begun wooing U.K.-based businesses considering relocation. Delegations from the Netherlands, Ireland, Estonia and elsewhere have gone to Britain to meet channel operators that run their European business out of the U.K. using British-issued licenses that are currently valid for the whole of the EU but might not be after Brexit.

In March, British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the issue of broadcasting permits for the first time, saying both sides “should explore creative options with an open mind, including mutual recognition.” Giorgio Stock, who runs Turner Broadcasting’s Europe, Middle East and Africa business from London, welcomes May’s words — but he’s still planning for the worst. “We like it here,” Stock says. “But if we are obliged to come up with contingencies, we have the plan ready, and we are only 12 months away from having to execute it.”

Other international channel operators running networks out of Britain include Discovery and Viacom. John Enser of law firm CMS-CMNO, which works with film and TV companies and broadcasters, says most of his clients are preparing for “a hard cliff edge” next March, meaning a British withdrawal from the EU without new trade agreements in place, which would force the U.K. to fall back on World Trade Organization rules. “They have got to the stage, in a lot of cases, of working out which other EU country they would want a license from,” Enser says of his clients.

An agreed-on transition period with the EU through 2020 gives Britain a small bit of breathing room. But British film and TV companies are increasingly courting international business from outside Europe, notably the U.S.

“A lot of the financing and commissioning that is fueling our infrastructure, our visual effects businesses and employment isn’t coming from Europe. It is coming from the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros. and Disney,” Wootton says. “The globally disruptive platforms, together with the studios, together with broadcasters like HBO, are making the running.”

John McVay, head of indie producers association Pact, believes the U.K. will remain an attractive partner for foreign entertainment companies post-Brexit. “If you don’t want to co-produce with Americans for English-language [content], what is the other place you are going to work with?” he says.

With every industry lobbying hard for a tailor-made Brexit plan, film and TV have banded with other creative sectors — including fashion, video games and publishing — to ensure their voices are heard by the British government. Former prime minister Harold Wilson once said that “a week is a long time in politics.” With so much yet to be done, and as negotiations with the EU drag on, British officials and the film and TV business alike are hoping the adage holds true.

More Biz

  • Hollywood celebrated the individuals redefining "on-screen

    Media Access Awards Honors Individuals Increasing Representation for Disabilities

    Hollywood celebrated individuals redefining “on-screen representation for the disability community” with the Media Access Awards, in partnership with Easterseals, at the Beverly Hilton Thursday. Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel kicked off the event, which featured Camryn Manheim, CJ Jones, Coby Bird and “The Peanut Butter Falcon” actors Zack Gottsagen and John Hawkes presenting awards along [...]

  • 'Roxanne' Singer Arizona Zervas Signs With

    'Roxanne' Singer Arizona Zervas Signs With Columbia

    Hotly tipped singer-songwriter Arizona Zervas, whose viral hit “Roxanne” is in the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100,  has signed with Columbia, Variety has confirmed. Since the release of the track on Oct. 10, “Roxanne” has reached nearly 50 million streams on Spotify. The single topped Spotify U.S. top tracks chart for an uninterrupted [...]

  • Jax Media at Variety New Leaders

    Jax Media Accepts Variety's Creative Leadership Award at New Leaders Cocktail Party

    This year’s Variety New Leaders event, presented by City National Bank, honored innovative visionaries in entertainment. The cocktail party was hosted on a chilly Thursday night in Lower Manhattan’s Jimmy Rooftop Bar at the James Hotel. Patrick McCarthy, senior VP and head of marketing for City National Bank, kicked off the event highlighting the new [...]

  • taylor swift, scott borchetta and scooter

    Rage Against the Big Machine: What's Driving the Taylor Swift Showdown

    The latest Taylor Swift-Scooter Braun-Scott Borchetta kerfuffle involves the sort of music business minutiae that doesn’t commonly interest the general public — in fact, it’s probably safe to say that untold thousands if not millions of people are suddenly familiar with the concept of re-recording old masters. But in blasting Braun on social media and [...]

  • Redbox

    Redbox Settles Disney Suit, Agrees Not to Sell Download Codes

    Redbox has settled its litigation with Disney, agreeing not to resell codes that allow customers to download movies. Redbox has traditionally offered DVDs for rent through its distinctive kiosks. In October 2017, the company also began offering download codes at a considerable discount compared to the price on iTunes, Amazon or other services. Redbox did [...]

  • Shari Redstone: ViacomCBS 'Can Compete With

    Shari Redstone: ViacomCBS 'Can Compete With the Best of Them'

    Shari Redstone is emphatic: ViacomCBS has plenty of resources and the scale to compete in the new world order for media giants. “We absolutely have enough scale,” Redstone said Friday morning during her Q&A held as part of the Paley Center for Media’s International Council Summit in New York. “We have an incredible library. We [...]

  • Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift Denies Big Machine's Claims Over Song Use, 'Millions' in Debt

    In the latest salvo in a rapidly evolving media battle that has evolved over the past 15 hours, Taylor Swift refuted Big Machine Records’ claim that the company did not try to block her from using material from her early albums, which are owned by the label, in forthcoming television specials. Swift had leveled those [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content