The U.K.’s independent television production sector generated a record £3.3 billion ($4.2 billion) in 2019, driven by international revenues that broke £1 billion ($1.3 billion) for the first time.
The Pact U.K. Production Census, an annual survey conducted by the country’s trade org for producers, showed that international work proved to be the most lucrative for British program makers in 2019, generating £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) — an increase of 11% on 2018 revenues (£962 million), and a 30% growth over the past five years.
“The growth is in original commissions, which basically means that U.K. indie creativity is at a premium, not just domestically but also internationally,” said John McVay, CEO of Pact, who described a “long story” getting to this point over the last 10 years.
“First of all, we started selling formats, then we started selling direct to the networks in North America, and that’s grown year on year to the point where, now, British indies are not only suppliers to the international SVODs but increasingly to all the linear channels in North America, which is the biggest TV market on the planet.”
International commissions grew to £988 million ($1.3 billion) in 2019, an increase of 40%. Commissions from international broadcasters were up by £226 million ($291 million), accounting for the majority of growth, while revenue from SVOD services such as Netflix and Amazon reached £337 million ($434 million). Domestic revenues also reached a new high of £1.9 billion ($2.4 billion), a 3% increase on 2018 levels.
Sara Geater, chair of Pact and chief operating officer for All3Media, added: “In these hard COVID times, it just shows we’ve got a sector that is resilient. It’s strong and full of creative talent.”
McVay said he hopes the “historic” revenues of 2019 have helped to cushion the blow of the COVID-19 crisis, which has brought the industry to its knees in 2020. Asked how the crisis will impact the 2020 Census figures, the executive played diplomat and said it was “hard to predict” what the repercussions may be. Around 70% of U.K. production is back up and running, said an optimistic McVay, with “more to go and risks to manage.”
“The resourcefulness, creativity and innovation that we’ll see in the sector as we navigate this and get back to the numbers [of 2019] will be a real credit, not only to the British indies, but also highly beneficial to our broadcasters and audiences,” continued McVay.
Elsewhere, the 2019 Census shows a continuing trend of overall commissioning spend focused largely on drama and entertainment. Drama content accounted for 40% of all U.K. primary commissioning, representing an increase of five percentage points on 2018.
Both entertainment and factual content saw an increase in commissioning spend, together accounting for 37% of the market — a five percentage point increase in total.
The U.K. industry’s commitment to growing its spend outside of London and into the Nations and Regions was also evident in Pact survey results. In 2019, half of all U.K. production budgets were spent in the Nations and Regions, compared to 45% in 2018. Meanwhile, 37% of full-time jobs were based outside of London (31% in 2018).