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Is the independent TV sector really 'indie' any more?

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30 September 2013

Earlier this month, Televisual published its 21st annual survey of the indie sector – the Production 100.

Some of the names from our 1993 survey – Hat Trick, Wall to Wall, Windfall, Tiger Apsect – are the same as when we first started out with the Producution 100.

But the sector has changed so much, it’s barely recognisable. Back then, indies were famously characterised as lifestyle businesses. They largely operated in the margins of television, which was dominated by the powerful inhouse production divisions of the BBC and ITV. One customer, Channel 4, provided the bulk of their business – with the BBC and ITV offering scraps from their table.

In 2013, the independent sector looks in rude health. UK revenues of the Production 100 indies stand at £2.1bn. Throw in the international subsidiaries of the big superindies, and the figure is over £3bn.

It has grown in leaps and bounds in the last few years, with entrepreneurial (and often desperate) producers weathering the recession by cutting back and then aggressively going in search of new markets.

First, indies have grown to dominate the UK production sector – winning ever more business from an expanding range of broadcasters. Secondly, they have broken into international markets, particularly the US, earning a world class reputation for production.

Along the way, UK indies have become huge export successes – with outfits like Raw TV, Studio Lambert, Blink, Darlow Smithson and Wag TV earning over 60% of their revenues from overseas markets.

This growth hasn’t come about easily. The Production 100 reveals that indies are working harder than ever, with smaller teams putting in far longer hours, to maintain and build their businesses. They are having to cope with a continuing decline in broadcaster budgets, yet rising expectations. The sector also remains hugely competitive.

Along the way, the sector has changed structurally too. Very few of the companies that feature in the Production 100 can really be called independent.  Very few of them, ultimately, are UK companies either.

The majority of the companies at the top of the Production 100 are owned by global media conglomerates (Sony, NBC, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, RTL, De Agostini) and private equity firms. 

Meanwhile, broadcaster ITV has realised that production is where the all the action is. It has become the most active consolidator of the past year, snapping up three key indies – Big Talk, So Television and The Garden.

The word ‘indie’ has become something of a misnomer, describing mainly the companies in the second half of the Production 100 rankings.

Interestingly, though, it’s these true indies – as we detail in the report - who are posting some of the fastest growth of the year, among them Raw TV, Two Four, Mammoth Screen, True North, Red, Reef, Roughcut, Keo and Wild Pictures.

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