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Weighing up the indie sector

10 September 2010

What a difference a year makes. When Televisual last published its Production 100 survey, in September 2009, the mood was unremittingly bleak. Many indie producers told us their situation was so precarious that their biggest challenge was simply surviving the next few months.

This year’s Production 100 survey stands in stark contrast. In 2010, there’s a tangible sense of cautious optimism about the independent production sector. Most say that the business climate is gradually improving as broadcasters enjoy an advertising uptick and commission more programmes.

In fact, many indies have exited the recession with more diversified, dynamic businesses. Compelled to find new sources of revenue during the UK downturn, they have survived by spreading their wings into international markets, particularly the opened-up US network and cable sector.

Indies, of course, are still rightfully concerned about the state of the UK market. There’s a sense that we will never return to the levels of business seen before the market crashed in 2008.

Budgets are a real issue. Indies loudly complain that commissioning budgets are continually being squeezed, but that broadcasters want the same – or higher – quality for less money. Worse, there are numerous complaints that broadcasters are failing to cash flow productions properly, creating real problems for mid-sized and smaller indies without the benefit of deep pockets.

Meanwhile, at the top end of the market, there’s been a remarkable return of the indie consolidation trend that characterised the pre-recession era, with the likes of RDF, Shed and Optomen all changing hands in recent weeks.

The difference this time is that it goes beyond mere consolidation – this is more like a super-consolidation as the big get even bigger. According to our figures, the top five superindie groups now account for 50% of the indie market. And global outfits are doing much of the buying.

In fact much of the UK production sector is now in foreign hands with US studios Warner Bros and NBC Universal and European conglomerates Endemol, RTL and De Agostini owning five of our top 10 superindie groups. For good or ill, this fact alone reveals much about how far this so called ‘lifestyle’ business has come in the last ten years.

See Televisual’s September issue for the Production 100 survey

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