Lord Grade: “Piracy is the enemy of new content”
December 8, 2015
By Colin Mann
A £200 million (€275m) investment in the UK’s famous Pinewood Studios, which includes the construction of 10 mammoth sound stages, will better equip the facility for a range of high-end television production opportunities, although (Lord) Michael Grade, Chairman, is pleased to report that current demand from the movie sector means that there is little opportunity for such shows at present, even with online services such as Netflix and Amazon investing considerable sums in the creation of such content.
With a number of high-profile film projects underway in various parts of the 300-acre complex, Pinewood is obliged by its movie studio customers to employ strict security measures to ensure that even the slightest hint of future productions remains under wraps. “Piracy is the enemy of new content,” Grade told members of the Broadcasting Press Guild, suggesting that Pinewood was better placed than many rivals because of such measures, and as such, was now able to attract a range of prestige projects. “The big [Hollywood] studios are attracted by the quality we can offer,” he noted.
Pinewood Studios, which Grade described as “a ghost ship” when he and business partner and CEO Ivan Dunleavy acquired the business in 2000, with the order book “absolutely empty” is now seeking to grow its share of a movie sector that earned £1.5 billion for the UK sector in 2014, with £0.5 billion going to high-end TV production. “The business has at least trebled since those days, with revenue sources increasing ten-fold,” he advised.
The company is doing healthy business in what Corporate Affairs Director Andrew Smith described as “shiny floor TV” – namely Light Entertainment. Indeed, Grade – a former Controller of BBC1, CEO of Channel 4, Chairman of the BBC and Executive Chairman of ITV – noted that Pinewood’s first contact was for cult BBC quiz show The Weakest Link. “It moved us along; it was a great accelerator,” he said. “Since then, TV has been overtaken by the film business. Little by little, we’ve gained the confidence of the movie sector.” As such, the acquisition of the renowned Shepperton Studios had helped create what he described as “the world’s leading independent studio facility”, with film revenues now ten times greater than TV.
According to Grade, film studios are more ready to commit to projects than TV. “TV commissions are often a little more last minute,” he noted, likening the job of maximising the capacity of the facility’s stages to a Rubik’s Cube. He admitted that Pinewood’s success had been helped by a favourable tax regime that had helped attract certain projects, but noted that for every pound sterling that was paid by the UK taxpayer, £12 came back. ”It’s good for the country,” he declared. He also thought that the UK had an unmatched range of skills. “There’s no aspect of screen entertainment we’re not good at.”