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Who earns what in TV

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
Male: £49,583
Female £39,382

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:

Runner: £15,500
Researcher: £21,150
Assistant producer: £28, 362
Director: £36, 635
Production manager: £36,693
Camera operator: £38,900
Studio manager: £40,819
Producer: £43,970
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
Bookings: £27,520
Editor (offline): £33,675
Producer: £40,614
Facilities manager: £41,861
Vfx artist: £42,000
Editor (online): £42,336
Dubbing mixer: £43,909
Colourist: £57,000
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.”

Day rates

Assistant producer: £171
Production manager: £216
Editor (offline): £263
Head of production: £272
Director: £291
Camera operator: £293
Producer: £314
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 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
20-25: £17,571
26-30: £28,787
31-35: £40,332
36-40: £56,166
41-45: £52,271
46-50: £57,787
51-55: £51,280
56-60: £51,582
61-65: £65,533

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.”

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.

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.

Posted 19 April 2011 by Tim Dams

How's 2011 for indies?

Four indie bosses give their verdict on the state of business for the independent production sector so far this year. Is the market still challenging or are things beginning to pick up?

Glyn Middleton
Chief executive, True North

The market has definitely picked up - more programmes are being commissioned and we're busier than we've ever been. But there's a down side - programme budgets are being squeezed and broadcasters are demanding the same level of quality for less cash. In a hugely competitive market, we can't afford to let the quality slip, so we've had to accept that we'll sometimes make little or no profit on programmes, but will balance the books through post production, secondary sales and new sources of income. My concern is for those indies without their own facilities.

David Smith
Managing director, Matchlight

I'm hopeful. Commissions are certainly happening even if tariffs continue to drift downwards and pressure in departments that have suffered cuts, like business affairs, slow the process. The BBC's year end makes Jan to March an interesting time. It's a good time to sell even if cash flow is often delayed until beyond April. We had a good 2010/11 and 2011/12 looks like it will be at least as good. We have new commissions about to start for BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4 and we're in production on our first series commission for C5 - 6x60 and funded. The trick, as ever, is maintaining momentum throughout the year.

Jonathan Drake
Managing director, Impossible Pictures

The new year is hectic – as a result of keeping development boiling during the downturn we are emerging out the other side firing on all cylinders with every unit in production across all our companies. The inevitable repositioning of financing and business models has been accelerated through the recession, but there appears to be some confidence in the market now to actually put them in practice and decisions are getting made. A close eye still needs to be kept on costs and the profitability of any project we enter into – and this means the business functions have as much on their hands right now as the creative ones.

Charles Wace
Chief executive, Two Four Group

2011 has certainly been a lot better so far than 2010. The sentiment is a lot brighter. In the broadcast space, we have noticed a welcome return of commissioning from pretty well every broadcaster that Twofour has worked with in the past. In order to achieve a margin, projects are being financed in part through overseas sales or by the injection of cash from a corporate sponsor. In the digital space, we have also seen a considerable increase in private companies wanting to build a brand and presence online. Twofour's overseas sales have continued being really significant - with our Abu Dhabi office kicking in revenue across all sectors of our business.

Posted 13 April 2011 by Tim Dams

Frank's multinational lesson

It’s a move that speaks volumes about how the TV production sector has moved on from its early, cottage industry days.

David Frank, the boss of production giant Zodiak Media Group, says he has been busy studying how multinational pharmaceutical companies and car manufacturers motivate and incentivise their staff.

Best known as the founder of Wife Swap producer RDF Media, Frank sold his company to Zodiak Media Group last year. He’s now CEO of Zodiak, which spans 45 production companies across 17 countries.

Given the size of the company he now runs, Frank says his biggest challenge is how to motivate and retain the very best creative people in the market within in a multinational group.

As a result, he’s spent plenty of time learning “how large corporations incentivise staff to contribute to the global endeavor, and contribute to global success.”

Speaking at MipTV, he added: “How does one try and ensure that the fantastic local talent operating in different local markets… how does one somehow combine that at the centre without destroying the local creativity?”

However, Frank declined to reveal in public exactly what conclusions he had reached.

Saying that Zodiak operated in three key areas – kids, scripted drama and non-fiction – Frank explained that television remains its core activity – and would do for some time to come.

“I don’t subscribe to the theory that the TV business is screwed, that it’s all going fragmented and going online or digital. I consider that we are a TV company first and foremost…the ability to aggregate sizeable audiences on a TV platform is where we start and we finish somewhere else.”

He thought that the recent focus by broadcasters on ‘360 degree content’ that often started on the web and then moved to TV was a mistake.

“Where the broadcasters went wrong with the digital revolution is they said 360 has to start online… Personally I feel that’s a bit of a mistake.”

Instead, he thinks that producers should look to enhance their TV offerings with online and digital content. “For us as TV producers, this is an opportunity to make telly more interesting and entertaining.”

Zodiak, he added, is investing a lot in “the two-screen experience”, because the way TV is being consumed by the younger generation is changing rapidly.

“Young kids are watching and communicating with their friends while watching TV. The digital platforms don’t replace TV, they enhance it.”

“We haven’t had a genre defining hit for a while … but this looks like an area that is ripe for exploitation,” he concluded.

Posted 05 April 2011 by Tim Dams

MipTV gets down to business

A businesslike MipTV swung into gear today under clear blue skies and bright sunshine.

Arnold Schwarzenegger brought a touch of Hollywood star wattage to the market, arriving to unveil animated series The Governator, his first project since stepping down as Governor of California. See full story here.

Not to be outdone, four young Brits spent much of the day wandering around the Croissette in their swimming trunks to promote Back2Back Productions’ The Hunks, a factual show about 10 ‘lads’ living it up in Newquay, Cornwall. It airs on Sky Living later this month.

Distributors expressed cautious optimism that this MipTV would prove to be a busy market, building on a strong Mipcom and MipTV last year.

FremantleMedia CEO Tony Cohen said that broadcasters around the world had enjoyed a strong 2010 as advertising revenue recovered, meaning that there was “all to play for in 2011.”

Electric Sky chief executive David Pounds said: “Mipcom last year was busy, and MipTV this year has all the hallmarks of being similarly busy.”

Early deals announced today include the following:

- Sky Atlantic has acquired UK rights to upcoming mini-series Pompeii. The series is based on the best selling book by Robert Harris, is penned by Oscar-winning writer Robert Towne (Chinatown, Mission Impossible). The producers are Sony Pictures Television, Tandem Communications, Peace Out Productions, Dolphin Entertainment, Leder Productions in association with Scott Free Television production in partnership with Sky and ProSiebenSat.1 TV Germany. It will air in 2012.
- Spain’s Zinkia Entertainment announced it has taken a 51% stake in kids and family entertainment company Cake. London-based Cake, headed up by Tom van Waveren and Ed Galton, works with production companies from around the world to develop, create, commercially position and manage their IP propositions for the international market. Properties handled by Cake include: Oscar’s Oasis, Poppy Cat, Tom & the Slice of Bread with Strawberry Jam & Honey, Angelo Rules and The Sparticle Mystery. Zinkia has a track record in creating and managing entertainment brands, including global hit Pocoyo.

- Content Television (formerly known as Fireworks International) sold more than 50 hours of children’s drama and comedy programming to Australia’s national broadcaster ABC TV. The deal includes Even Stevens, The Assistants, BAFTA Children’s Award nominated Black Hole High and two CBBC Productions – Young Dracula and Desperados.

- CBeebies controller Kay Benbow commissioned Tree Fu Tom (26 x 22 mins), a multi-platform action adventure animation series from CBeebies In House Productions and FremantleMedia Enterprises (FME). Designed to help children’s movement development, it follows the adventures of a boy with magical powers as he takes viewers to an enchanted world in a tree and encourages them to help him cast magic spells with gentle, fun physical movements. Tree Fu Tom was created and is being produced by Daniel Bays. 

- Off The Fence (OTF) announced a raft of sales amounting to over 120 hours of programming to UK and pan-territory broadcasters. The deals were brokered by Bo Stehmeier, director of sales at OTF and included sales of shows such as Art Race (12x30’), Raising Sextuplets (14x60’), Artland (24x60’) and Adoption Diaries (4x30’) to Sky Arts. Elsewhere in the UK, Discovery UK acquired Ice Man (1x60’), Animal Planet UK bought Cheetah Diaries (13x30’) and Eden obtained Home in Danger Zone (1x60’).

- BBC Worldwide unveiled new properties for CBeebies. New titles to be rolled out throughout 2011 and 2012 include Baby Jake, Jollywobbles and Andy’s Wild Adventures. Andy’s Wild Adventures (40 x 15’) will be produced by the BBC’s Natural History Unit, with young viewers invited to join the adventures of CBeebies presenter Andy Day and his knowledgeable and tech-savvy sidekick, Kip. Baby Jake (26 x 11’) is a new show from Darrall Macqueen which mixes live action with 2D photographic animation, to bring to life the magical adventures of the title character, as he giggles and gurgles his way through fantastical lands with his imaginary animal friends. Jollywobbles (13 x 9’) is a new comedy written, produced, directed and starring Justin Fletcher (Something Special, Gigglebiz), Jollywobbles. BBC Worldwide will also manage the international rights of the Scrumptious House show.

Posted 04 April 2011 by Tim Dams
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