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U.K. TV Bizzers Downplay Brexit Fears in Rome

MIA panel strikes hopeful note for local TV post-E.U.

A panel of British TV professionals struck a hopeful note on Thursday at the MIA Market in Rome, as they tried to assess the potential fallout of Britain’s impending exit from the E.U. on the booming U.K. TV biz.

“There will be problems…but I think a far bigger force, actually, is the desire to continue to collaborate, and actually collaborate much more with European producers,” said Martin Haines, COO of Kudos. “The impulses of Brexit…are just not in tune with what audiences want. The creative opportunity and the commercial imperative will just wash it away.”

Haines appeared on a panel, “Focus on U.K. TV,” that included Kate Crowe, head of TV at Scott Free London; David O’Donoghue, co-managing director of Carnival Films; Daisy Goodwin, creator of ITV and PBS Masterpiece series “Victoria”; Alex Marshall, COO of Archery Pictures; and Steve November, creative director of Lionsgate TV U.K. Writer and presenter Ali May moderated the session.

In a wide-ranging conversation that examined the impact of Brexit on U.K. television, as well as the growing role of streamers in shaking up the existing TV ecosystem, bizzers were cautiously optimistic that the underlying conditions that have driven local production in recent years will remain in place, even amid mounting uncertainty over ongoing negotiations to see the U.K. leave the E.U.

“I don’t think that Brexit is going to have a huge impact on the production sector,” said O’Donoghue. “The great thing about creativity is that…it doesn’t recognize borders.”

Governments, however, do, and there was a consensus that the greatest challenge in the short-term will be the end of visa-free movement for U.K. citizens in Europe, and vice versa. “I think we got used to the luxury of moving around Europe quite easily. I think that’s going to be a pain. It’s going to cost money,” said Marshall.

But he added that the formal mechanisms of co-producing would remain intact, because “most of the fundamentals of co-productions…are centered around the Council of Europe, not the European Economic Community.

“The heart of the Council of Europe is that culture is the soul of democracy,” he said. “I’m hoping that we’ll still be welcome to the party.”

The panelists struck a cautious note over the current state of production in the U.K. “I feel less positive than I would have done 12 months ago, but I still feel relatively good about the U.K. drama market,” said Haines. “The ecology of buyers is still pretty strong. BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Sky are all still seeking to define their channels in large part by commissioning drama.”

He added, “But from where we sit, it feels like there’s sort of an overheating of the market over the last year or so. If you look at the drama schedule…it felt like there was wall to wall drama. With a couple of notable exceptions, like ‘Bodyguard’ and ‘Killing Eve,’ it was difficult to get your show to cut through.”

“I think it’s a very challenging time as a producer, despite the talk of a boom,” November said, while noting that commissioning hours and spend are down in the decade since the recession. “It hasn’t really…been completely replaced by new buyers in the market for English-language dramas.”

Competition from streamers has posed the biggest challenge. “The streamers have been fantastic in terms of raising the bar. But the result of that equally is that the costs of the budgets are going up and up and up, which…can make it quite difficult to finance,” said O’Donoghue.

“One of the big challenges that we have in the U.K. market is that the pool of talent is relatively small, or is certainly finite. The demand for talent is being outdriven by supply. The result of that in part is that you have a spiraling of costs.”

Despite those challenges, Crowe noted that the creative sector is one of the biggest burgeoning contributors to the British economy. At a Brexit panel at the London Film Festival she attended earlier in the day, the producer saw signs that government remains determined to see that growth continue. “I felt heartened that there seemed to be a dialogue that our needs were recognized, and hopefully there will be solutions. [The government] obviously want to keep the dialogue going. They don’t want the industry to falter,” she said.

“Most people in Britain don’t want to be seen to be in this…cultural jail, where we’re locked up and we’re not open to creative conversations. We’re still open for business. And we still want to do deals. And we still want to work with amazing talent that comes from Europe,” she continued. “It’s an ever-evolving ecosystem, and…I really hope that we can still be very much part of a European conversation, things that are beneficial for European partners and beneficial for us.”

Goodwin added that Brexit could also be seen as an unexpected creative boon for producers. “Where is the drama about Brexit? Where is the drama that is showing to the nation, and to the world, what’s going on? I don’t see enough. I don’t see anything,” she said. “I think the Europeans really might be quite interested in that. It’s a real divide….Why aren’t we dealing with it as producers?”

CREDIT: Matteo Mignani/MIA

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