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Are we in the late stages of a TV production bubble?

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25 August 2015

Televisual publishes the latest in its long line of surveys of the independent production sector, the Production 100, in this month’s issue.

Taken together, the surveys tell the story of the buccaneering indie sector since 1993, chronicling its growth from a nascent cottage industry to a world renowned, export orientated sector which has attracted huge inward investment.

There have been plenty of ups and downs in this story, with fortunes made for a talented, hard working (and lucky) few along the way. Quite a few fortunes have been made in the past year too, following the sale of indies such as Twofour, Blast! Films and Neal Street.

In many cases the buyers are broadcasters such as ITV, Sky or Discovery, reflecting a trend for media companies to diversify out of broadcasting. Their reasons for doing so are becoming more pressing by the year. Traditional TV viewing continues to fall, with the greatest decline among the under-45s, reported Ofcom last month. Viewing to ITV-owned channels fell the most, it said, between 2013 and 2014. Over in the US, concerns about the viewing habits of young customers have led to a sharp sell off in media stocks, with the value of Walt Disney, Viacom and Discovery plunging.

Broadcasters clearly view production as good place to diversify into. And on past performance, it clearly is: the UK production sector has powered ahead in the past ten years, almost doubling its revenues since 2004.

But are broadcast buyers too late to the party? One of the key findings from this year’s Production 100 survey is that, while producers have generally had a good year, they are cautious about the outlook for the year ahead. The market is more competitive than ever, they say, as more people chase riches in production. Not only are broadcasters pushing into the sector, but also a slew of well-known execs have branched out on their own this year, launching start up indies.

Yet all these companies are operating in a market where UK commissioning spend has been broadly flat since 2012, while international revenues dipped slightly last year. This trend looks set to continue amid pressure on the BBC licence fee, and troubles in the US media market.

Indeed, some argue that the TV business is in the late stages of a bubble.  “There is simply too much television,” warned FX Networks boss John Landgraf  last month, arguing viewers were overwhelmed by options. Based on the feedback to the Production 100, talk of a bubble in TV production is probably overstepping the mark. But significant growth, of the kind enjoyed by the indie sector over the last ten years, is likely to be far harder to achieve. 

The September issue of Televisual is out this week.

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