Sky Studios Elstree, the large-scale film and TV production facility being developed by Comcast’s European pay-TV operator Sky, sister company NBCUniversal, and finance firm Legal & General, has received the green light to proceed with construction following a decision late Wednesday by the local government, Hertsmere Borough Council.
According to Sky, the studios are likely to generate up to an additional £3 billion ($3.79 million) of production investment in the U.K.’s economy in the first five years of operation. Sky Studios Elstree will become home to a host of Sky Originals, created by Sky Studios, as well as major film productions from Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Working Title, and television series from Universal Studio Group. Independent producers will also be welcome.
The final design for the facility sees 12 sound stages on site, with the ability to merge together and sub-divide sound stages to accommodate productions of all sizes, Sky said. This means that the biggest sound stages on site can now increase to cover 60,000 sq. ft. if needed, or reduce to much smaller segregated studios, an important consideration in the post-COVID-19 era. The production facilities and digital suites on site will also be set up to facilitate remote working.
The construction phase of the build will contribute £230 million ($291 million) to the British economy over this and next year. Sky Studios Elstree will lead to the creation of more than 2,000 jobs in the local area, including 900 during the construction phase and 1,500 once the studio is operational.
Sky, with 24 million subscribers across seven countries, has been ramping up its investment in original content. Past Sky originals have include its Emmy-winning co-production with HBO “Chernobyl,” BAFTA-winning “Patrick Melrose” and international hit “Babylon Berlin.”
Last year, Sky launched Sky Studios, led by Gary Davey, to be the production vehicle for Sky originals, such as “The Third Day” with Jude Law, “ZeroZeroZero” from the makers of “Gomorrah,” and “The New Pope,” directed by Paolo Sorrentino.
Caroline Cooper, chief financial officer at Sky Studios, told Variety Thursday that the scale of the studios at Elstree reflected Sky’s ambition for its originals.
“One of the key reasons we were looking to build our own [production] capacity is because we’re looking to supercharge our Sky originals,” Cooper said. “They work brilliantly for our customers… they love them. And we want to make more and we’ve got big plans over the next five years to up our investment there. And Sky Studios Elstree is a big part of that – having our own capacity so that we can go on to make bigger and better show.”
The development of the facility is a major vote of confidence in the U.K. as a production hub. “The U.K. is a hugely attractive place to produce shows these days,” Cooper said. “You’ve got a great pool of talent – creatively, but also with crews, a good tax regime, and more and more people are trying to make productions here, and as a result, there really isn’t enough space.”
She added: “We wanted to have much more control over our own destiny here. And so alongside NBCU it was a great opportunity to invest in our own facility, so that we can have our own Sky originals and NBCU films [produced here] – shows that might otherwise have actually been made abroad. It benefits the economy as well. I think we’re looking at over £3 billion of production investment now going through Sky Studios Elstree in the next five years and a huge new opportunity for job creation as well. So it’s a great investment in the U.K. cultural economy.”
Several new film and TV studios are being developed in the U.K. in response to a boom in production there and a shortage of stage space.
The total spend on movie and high-end TV production in the U.K. last year was £3.62 billion ($4.49 billion), a 16% annual increase, and the highest figure ever recorded.
Underpinning that boom is the 25% tax rebate for production, a strong and growing studio infrastructure, a thriving VFX sector, and a rich vein of talent behind and in front of the camera.
Real estate consultancy firm Lambert Smith Hampton estimated last year that an additional 1.8 million square-feet of studio space will be required in the U.K. by 2025.