The results of Televisual's exclusive salary survey are in, revealing average pay levels for key industry jobs - from runners right up to managing directors.
£45,455. That's the average pay of someone working in the television industry, according to Televisual's 16th salary survey. On the face of it, £45.5k is an impressive sum. It suggests that TV professionals earn more, on average, than solicitors (£44k) or IT managers (£45.3k). All for a job that is probably rather more fun too.
But, at the risk of undermining Televisual’s own survey, it should be said that this £45.5k figure is best described as the average pay of Televisual readers and subscribers. The survey skews slightly towards typical Televisual readers, often experienced industry professionals such as producers, directors, heads of production and editors. (That said, the survey records the pay of almost every single job in TV production).
TV industry annual average salaries
Average pay: £45,455
Broadcaster full time: £45,595
Indie full time: £57,096
Facility full time: £42,041
Freelance production: £40,703
Freelance post: £42,750
We emailed readers asking them to respond anonymously to our salary survey, revealing their pay for 2010 – we had 527 responses in all.
The TV industry can provide a route to impressive wealth for a few such as BBC director general Mark Thompson (whose salary falls 20% this year to £619k). Our survey records a handful of independent producer mds earning £250k a year, and one bringing in £500k.
At the bottom of the pile, the new entrants to the industry – runners – are earning an average of £15.5k a year, while researchers are on an average salary of £21k.
Average annual pay for jobs in TV production:
Assistant producer: £28, 362
Director: £36, 635
Production manager: £36,693
Camera operator: £38,900
Studio manager: £40,819
Line producer: £49,767
Director of photography: £48,700
Series producer: £55,200
Head of production: £60,873
Exec producer: £63,283
Managing director: £129,667
The reality, according to detailed feedback and comments provided by respondents to the survey, is that many people working at the coalface of television production are struggling. In many cases they are coping with pay freezes and cuts as well as longer working days and intense competition for work.
A clear majority of TV industry workers – 41% – say their pay rates stayed the same during 2010. Some 23% said their earnings had fallen over the year, while 36% said they were taking home more.
Average annual pay for jobs in TV post-production:
Edit assistant: £18,845
Editor (offline): £33,675
Facilities manager: £41,861
Vfx artist: £42,000
Editor (online): £42,336
Dubbing mixer: £43,909
Vfx super: £85,000
The difference in pay levels between senior execs and production staff is a common complaint of the survey respondents. “There’s a ridiculous disparity between the Thompson-style execs and the actual PDs, APs and researchers who actually make the programmes,” complains one Manchester-based producer.
“People who have nothing to do with programme making – strategists, marketers and bureaucrats – see their empires and salaries growing,” adds a Glasgow based producer/director, who says that salaries for most people in production or post have stayed the same or gone down for years.
Indeed, pay freezes for production staff are commented upon widely. And with inflation currently running at 4.4%, there’s widespread concern that pay levels are effectively going down. “Although we earn a good wage compared to the rest of the country, pay rises are rare. As the cost of living increases we are effectively taking a pay cut,” says one facilities manager from London. Another female producer says: “I am extremely concerned that salaries have stayed fixed throughout my 12 year career. They don’t appear to have gone up with inflation, as my outgoings have, and staff are also expected to do an enormous amount of free overtime as part of this deal.”
Assistant producer: £171
Production manager: £216
Editor (offline): £263
Head of production: £272
Camera operator: £293
Editor (online): £329
Director of photography: £420
In fact, long hours and ‘free overtime’ are a major cause of complaint. “I’m appalled by permanent position salaries – it’s never reflective of the actual work that is done,” says one 33-year-old edit assistant. “Everyone is overworked and underpaid. No wonder it is a young person’s game.” A lighting cameraman based in Manchester adds: “Longer hours. Less money. Expected to provide camera kit with more for less. Earning third less than 2007. No respect for me by my employers. Disillusioned and struggling to find work even with my experience.”
Many complain that, on top of the long hours, a working week is now stretching to six, even seven days. “I’ve just turned down a job for a Five ob doc because the production company wanted me to work a seven day week for a five day rate with no time or money in lieu. 14 plus hour days are the norm,” says a London based producer/director.
Another London based producer echoes this complaint: “I’ve produced for 10 years now and my weekly rate has varied from £1,800-2,000 a week. In the last three years my salary has declined as rates have been squeezed, no extra money has been given for six day week shoots…and execs expect crews to work insane hours.” A documentary producer director adds: “A rate of £1350 a week sounds great. But it is not enough to cover the hours we work, and the level we work at, and completely disregards the European Working Time Directive.”
One production exec who recently quit to become a university lecturer comments: “I found it was becoming harder and harder to secure a daily rate in line with experience and past employment conditions. Employers were resorting to ‘buy out’ tactics, sometimes a six-day week for a flat weekly rate were seen as normal." The former production exec says that on one job he was scheduled for three weeks continuous shooting with no days off. "Experiences like this led me to believe that the industry was becoming less scrupulous and exploitation was becoming more common. This is especially true lower down the ladder as I often saw runners and junior researchers working unreasonable hours with little consideration for safety or wellbeing.”
There’s no shortage of reasons to explain why pay has flat lined in recent years. Most understand that it is a direct result of broadcasters cutting programme budgets by 10-20% as a result of the recession and the need for cost savings.
Freelancers, in particular, believe that they are having to bear the brunt of these broadcaster budget cuts, working longer hours for less, while staff at broadcasters and indies do not see their pay rates fall. A production accountant at a broadcaster says: “It’s tough having to hold pay rates at the same level over the past two years. Our budget has gone down, so if we put rates up we could be looking at fewer people doing more and that’s not good. So we keep them at the same rate, aware this isn’t good either.”
COMPETITION KEEPS RATES LOW
Competition for work is also fierce, driving down or at least keeping pay rates on hold. “We’re all competing in a flooded, oversaturated market against younger, cheaper workers and this is taking its toll on salaries,” says one London based head of production.”
Younger workers worry about how they can get on – and even survive – in an industry where competition for jobs is intense. “I don’t think it’s feasible to live in London on such a low salary,” says one runner. “Many of the younger people coming into TV are then leaving again to pursue other careers as they can’t afford to stay,” comments a DoP. Post production pay for new entrants is regarded as particularly low. “The starting wage for a runner in a facility has barely changed in ten years. TV is becoming the preserve of the middle, upper classes whose parents can afford to support their kids while they are being paid minimum wage for two or three years running. It is ultimately bad for everyone. I would not encourage my children to go into post production,” says one London based colourist.
Pay by age
Older workers, meanwhile, fear that employers value pay rates more than experience, and they worry that less experienced, cheaper rivals are often undercutting them. “Salaries are being eroded as the skill base is being denigrated by producers/production managers giving a toy town TV camera to the office junior and telling them to go film something,” says one respondent, complaining about the number of “out of focus shots/poor sound/rescued in the edit type programmes on TV at the moment.”
Older, experienced cameramen, in particular, are concerned about falling rates. “Pressure on the wages of cameramen is immense,” says one. “Production managers are openly resentful about rates of pay (which haven’t gone up for years). They think we are somehow ripping them off. They are increasingly dictating the use of EX3 or Canon XF305 type cameras in order to employ cheaper inexperienced labour or to justify paying cameramen less.” Older workers also express concerns about simply being able to maintain their pay levels. “I expect work and my annual salary to decrease from now on, as I’m older and probably more expensive than my peers,” says a 43-year old production manager.
Others believe that consolidation in the indie sector has not helped pay rates, arguing that a small number of powerful superindies are able to dictate, and keep down, rates of pay. “Because the independent world is dominated by a small number of superindies, the freelancers are in a weak position to argue…the superindies get rich on the backs of us,” believes one Bristol producer.
Senior execs are also blamed for the state of pay in the industry. “I’m working far harder for the money than ever before – forced to cut corners and kicked when things go wrong. Very low opinion of execs,” says one series producer. There’s a widespread belief that some senior execs lack experience, are poor decision makers and are reluctance to stick up for pay rates for junior staff. One editor complains: “There are great ones but far too many overpaid and under qualified executive producers…they are losing productions vast sums of money through foolish decisions which they can easily cover up.”
JOB ROLES BLURRING
Many respondents point out that their pay rates are stagnating at the same time as they are being asked to do far more for a production, with job roles blurring as multitasking becomes more common. “In real terms we are paid less and expected to deliver more,” argues an assistant director. “Ambition for scripts has increased, but with falling budgets the pressure is placed on crew to pull productions through on a shoe-string while being paid less in real terms to do it.”
Things are not all bad, though. Employers are often willing to pay well for trusted talent who can deliver. “They’re like gold dust,” says one indie producer. “Because the risk of getting a show wrong is too much.” This means, says a London-based director, that although salaries have levelled off “you can still negotiate if you’re really good at your job or have a pedigree.”
In general, the survey paints a picture of an industry that pays a decent average wage for established execs compared to many industries. But it’s startling how many are fearful of the future, and find themselves working harder as salaries come under increasing pressure because of falling budgets and intense competition to work in TV.
HOW OUR PAY SURVEY WORKS
Televisual emailed subscribers asking them to respond anonymously to our online salary survey, which asked them a series of questions. We asked respondents what they were paid in 2010, their age, gender, and for an outline of their job, experience and whether they thought pay levels were rising, falling, or staying the same. We had 527 responses in all, enough to allow us to carry out a robust analysis of industry pay levels. On average, respondents were 39 years old and had worked in TV for 15 years. 61% were male, and 39% female. 60% worked full time for a single employer, while 36% were freelance. Of full time workers, 42% worked for an indie producer, 28% for a facility and 15% for a broadcaster. The survey skewed towards more senior levels of the business. Of those working for an indie or broadcaster, 17% were producers and 8% were directors. Within post, 17% of respondents were offline editors, 13% online editors and 9% facilities managers. Some 64% of respondents were based in London.