Advanced Television

Analysis: British TV drama co-commissioning record high

June 12, 2019

By Colin Mann

Broadcasters and SVoD players are increasingly collaborating on co-commissions to create ambitious and exciting content for UK audiences, helping drive investment in UK TV drama production to record levels, according to new independent analysis commissioned from independent analyst Ben Keen by the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA) –  the industry body for multichannel broadcasters in the UK – as part of its evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee’s ongoing inquiry into Public Service Broadcasting and VoD.

Based on British Film Institute data on productions seeking to use the high end tax relief, the analysis reveals that investment in UK high end TV production has doubled since 2014, rising to £1.7 billion in 2018. Investment in UK production is therefore at record levels, benefiting jobs, studios and supporting infrastructure right across the country.

This has been fuelled by a surge in co-commissions where broadcasters and/or SVODs collaborate at an early stage on a production, which have nearly doubled from 16 in 2014 to 30 in 2018. Also driving growth over the same period, the number of commissions from SVoDs has risen from two in 2014 to 18 in 2018.

The co-commissioning trend means greater budgets are available for broadcasters and/or SVoDs to make more ambitious shows. Broadcasters are partnering with other broadcasters and SVoDs on shows such as the acclaimed Chernobyl (Sky and HBO), Gentleman Jack (BBC and HBO), Fleabag (BBC and Amazon), The Night Manager (BBC and AMC), and the upcoming Dracula (BBC and Netflix) and Philip Pullman’s adaptation of His Dark Materials (BBC and HBO). The trend shows no sign of slowing, with the number of co-commissions for 2019 already nearly as high as the total for 2018.

No less than 32 different broadcasters and SVoDs have partnered with PSBs on co-commissions since 2014, showing that PSBs are among the main beneficiaries and that the trend is not limited to streaming giants. The BBC has consistently been the biggest co-commissioner over this period.

The analysis also shows that:

  • The number of different shows being made each year has risen by 25 per cent over the same period, and the number of hours of content made each year has rocketed by 59 per cent.
  • Spend per hour has risen significantly, by 36 per cent, since 2014, with the average show now costing £2.3 million an hour. Along with increased costs in some areas, this is also down to a significant increase in production values in order to deliver more hugely ambitious content of real scale for audiences. The average budget per show has nearly doubled since 2014, although a significant factor in this is that the number of hours per production is also up by 24 per cent.

“UK drama and other types of high end production have never seen more investment from a greater number of sources,” noted Adam Minns, COBA’s Executive Director, commented. “There are challenges in terms of the skills and capacity to meet this huge increase in demand, but we have a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity not just to create phenomenal content for audiences, but to ensure that the UK audio-visual sector is at the heart of economic growth post Brexit.”

COBA’s key policy recommendation to help unlock this growth is to reform the Government’s existing Apprenticeship system. The current rules make it difficult for many creative companies to employ apprentices due to the often short term nature of contracts in the sector, meaning millions of pounds in funding for training are lost to the sector every year. This funding could be used to develop the skills needed to meet ever increasing demand for UK content and grow the sector even more, in the process creating opportunities for people from outside London and diversity.

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