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Behind the scenes: ITV's Jekyll & Hyde

Expectations for Jekyll & Hyde are running high. ITV director of TV Peter Fincham helped fan the flames for the network’s adaptation of the classic Victorian novella at the Edinburgh TV Festival, picking it out as a highlight of the broadcaster’s autumn drama slate.

Written by Charlie Higson, the ten-part series is aimed squarely at a family audience and liberally reworks Robert Louis Stevenson’s original tale of a man battling two personalities.

With a budget of around £1.5m an episode, the ITV Studios produced series is funded by ITV and its distribution arm, ITV Studios Global Entertainment. A significant proportion of the budget has also come from the tax break available for high end TV dramas.

It’s a generous budget for a UK drama, but still short of the millions spent on many US-backed shows that series like Jekyll & Hyde are now routinely compared against.

So the production team have worked hard to make the budget go as far as possible. Shot on location in Sri Lanka and at Chatham Dockyard, it has also filmed on sets at 3 Mills Studios in East London. Special effects are being produced at vfx house Double Negative’s TV division.

Televisual paid a visit to the sets at 3 Mills in the summer, and the ambition of the drama is quickly evident. Production designed by Catrin Meredydd, the sets are hugely impressive. A perfectly constructed music hall bar rises out of the middle of one studio to conjure up the spirit of 1930s London, replete with art deco touches. Dr Jekyll’s laboratory is also there, a fantasical circular room fit for a mad Victorian professor. Meanwhile, co-star Richard E Grant stood quietly preparing for his next scene amidst the activity of the crew in a dark, underground set designed to be the nerve centre of the organisation, MIO, that hunts the source of Hyde’s secret powers.

The genesis of the project goes back two years, and forms part of a strategy by ITV’s network, studios and distribution arms to create ambitious, big budget dramas that can work for the UK channel and appeal to the international market as well.

ITV Studios drama executive producer Francis Hopkinson then began a search for eight drama treatments from different writers that Network Centre and ITV GE could look at. Actor, scriptwriter and author of the Young Bond series Charlie Higson was one of the writers he approached. Higson put forward the idea of a new adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde, and by January 2014 it was one of three treatments picked up by ITV. Higson has written six of the ten episodes, with four other writers contributing scripts too.

Hopkinson says Higson’s scripts have sought to build on the ‘established mythology’ of the Jekyll & Hyde story, while setting it in the glamorous, art-deco infused 1930s and against the backdrop of the rise of fascism in Europe. From the outset it was designed to play as a fantasy adventure series in a pre-watershed slot, and uses films like the Indiana Jones series as a benchmark. “We are aiming at two things,” says Hopkinson. “It has got to have the sophistication to entertain the adults, and a sense of adventure and pace that will keep people under 20 watching.”

Still, this kind of fantasy adventure drama is pretty unfamiliar territory for ITV, which last aired Demons and Primeval back in 2009.

So it has drafted in a senior team with plenty of experience in the genre to steer the project, led by producer Foz Allan (Wolfblood, Robin Hood) and lead director Colin Teague (Being Human, Doctor Who). “There’s a good team working on this, with a very clear creative vision,” says Hopkinson.

One of the key early decisions for the team was who should play the lead. It’s a pivotal, but difficult role to cast as it requires an actor who can play both a mild mannered doctor as well as a larger than life character with superhero qualities. Kate Rhodes James was the casting director, and 50-60 actors were auditioned. Many were brought back three or four times.

Tom Bateman, who starred in Da Vinci’s Demons, The Tunnel and had the lead role in the West End revival of Shakespeare in Love, was one of the first to be seen. “When he came in, Charlie (Higson) said, ‘I think he is our man’ but we still had to see lots more people before we worked that out,” says Hopkinson.

Jekyll & Hyde filmed from February to July. Hopkinson insists that the production team have sought to make an original show for ITV, rather than a slightly homogenous drama made for the international market. “You can’t sit around and guess what the buyers want. One thing I have been very clear about is that we have to be true to ourselves.”

Updated to 1930s London, the action and adventure series focuses on Robert Jekyll, the well-meaning grandson of the original doctor. At the heart of the drama is his quest to discover his family history and the nature of his ‘curse’: his unwitting ability to transform into the dark, powerful and superhero-like Hyde 
in moments of stress and anger.

Jekyll & Hyde is produced by Francis Hopkinson’s ITV Studios drama team, which is also behind Lucan, Homefires and the forthcoming Tutankhamun

Writer and executive producer

Charlie Higson
Executive producer
Francis Hopkinson
Series producer
Foz Allan
Lead director
Colin Teague
Steve November, 
Jane Hudson
Production designer
Catrin Meredydd
Kate Rhodes James
Post production
The Farm
Visual effects
Double Negative

Jekyll & Hyde starts on Sunday 25th October on ITV

Posted 23 October 2015 by Tim Dams

TV industry weighs up growing US presence

America looms large in the mindset of British TV executives. This was clearly illustrated in the speaker line-ups at this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival and RTS Cambridge Convention, where senior figures from Discovery, Viacom, AMC, ABC, Showtime, HBO, NBC and Amazon were given platforms.

Their invitations reflect the growing presence of US companies in the UK TV market, through ownership of broadcasters like Channel 5 and Sky as well as major production groups like All3Media, Endemol Shine, Warner Bros, NBC Universal and Sony.

The reaction to this growing US presence has varied from the welcoming to the hostile. Many have looked for investment from US companies to grow their companies and boost budgets for their programmes, or have themselves sought to access to the lucrative North American market.

Endemol Shine’s Tim Hincks argued at Cambridge that US investment had given his company the financial freedom to take more creative risks in the UK: “The scale we get from consolidation allows and also helps foster risk taking for British creators.” NBC Universal’s Michael Edelstein said his company could “add tremendous value” to its UK produced shows, citing the casting of Rob Lowe in Sky1 show You, Me and The Apocalypse (pictured above).

However, many expressed concern. Notably, C4 and the BBC sought to portray themselves as some of the last bastions of British-ownership – and worthy of special protection as a result.

“The Britishness of British broadcasting matters. It isn’t isolationist or backward looking to say that,” argued BBC director general Tony Hall in keynote speech at Cambridge. He worried that changes to the UK’s distinct broadcasting ecology could lead to the decline in television production made in Britain.

C4 chief executive David Abraham, meanwhile, said that the IP and profits of many successful British production companies “are now held in New York.” He took particular issue with Discovery boss David Zaslav’s description of its UK production assets as “an IP farm”.

In an echo of his MacTaggart lecture of 2014, Abraham said: “The risk taking appetite that is built into the public service system has fuelled the creative economy and is different to how things work in America.”

Posted 13 October 2015 by Tim Dams

Is TV's ecosystem under threat?

The ‘ecosystem’ that lies behind the success of the British television industry is under threat as never before. That’s the warning from a swathe of senior executives and creative figures who have voiced their concerns in recent weeks about the future of the television sector, one of the key drivers the UK’s £76.9bn creative industries.

A number of events in recent weeks have sparked the concerns: an increasingly acrimonious and political debate about funding levels of the BBC ahead of Charter Renewal; the revelation
that the government is actively mulling the privatisation of Channel 4; a surprise review of
the Terms of Trade; and ongoing acquisitions in the UK production and broadcasting sector by US media companies. 

The future funding of the BBC has galvanised creatives to speak up in the corporation’s defence, in particular following the government’s surprise emergency Budget in July which saddled the corporation with the £700m cost of licence fees for the over-75s.

The Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci got the ball rolling in August with a rallying cry to programme makers to support and champion the BBC in the face of attacks from politicians in his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Meanwhile, Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky accused the Conservatives of “trying to eviscerate the BBC” for ideological reasons. Former Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies told the Radio Times festival last month that he believed the BBC was doomed, labelling the threat to the corporation a disgrace. “In 10 years time, everything we understand the BBC to be, will be gone.”

But it was at last month’s Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention that many of industry’s concerns were vented most loudly.

RTS President Sir Peter Bazalgette said the single most important issue facing the TV industry, particularly around BBC Charter Renewal, is the fall in investment in originated programmes, down from £2.6bn to £2.4bn in the five years to 2013.

“Originated programmes are about our democracy, they are about our culture, they are about our economy. They are by value the single most important intervention in the creative industries, and they are declining at the moment and I think we should come up with policies and strategies to get that number going the other way,” said Bazalgette.

The BBC is the UK’s largest investor in new, first run, originated programmes. As director general Tony Hall noted at Cambridge, the licence fee accounts for around 20 per cent of TV revenues – but around 40 per cent of the investment in original British programmes.

So it may have been reassuring to hear Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, in a speech at the Convention, say that there is no prospect of the BBC being abolished. “Let me be clear,” he said. “There is no threat to the BBC as a world class broadcaster.”

However, many in the industry are not sure if they can trust the emollient words of the Culture Secretary. In August, Whittingdale said that
the government was not currently considering
a sale of Channel 4, only for an official to be photographed in late September outside N.10 Downing Street holding papers that proposed privatisation.

The leadership team of Channel 4 has warned of the risks of privatisation in the past. Chief executive David Abraham said that privatisation would inevitably mean less money being spent on original content so that C4 could achieve a “20- 25% margin, like ITV”. The implicit warning is that C4 would have to spend less on distinctive, not for profit shows like Dispatches and Channel 4 News if it is privatised.

Meanwhile, Whittingdale’s decision to review the Terms of Trade, one of the foundations of the UK production sector’s growth over the past ten years, has shocked indie producers.

Pact chair Laura Mansfield called the move “utterly astonishing.” She said: “Given that the terms of trade are there to help and support qualifying indies and entrepreneurs who need it - such as my indie Outline – and do not apply to the non-qualifying indies,
I just don’t understand why a government
which champions small businesses would want to create such instability”.

Reviews of the
BBC, C4 and the Terms of Trade have led to real concern about government policy towards the TV sector. Iannucci has accused the government of creating ‘a rather frightened atmosphere’ within the industry.

This comes on top of fears that consolidation, in particular US acquisitions of producers and broadcasters, is already reshaping the British television industry. Ofcom recently reported that large foreign media companies now own six of the top seven UK producers, accounting for around £1bn of UK revenue. This has led to concern that the bigger companies will focus only on the most commercially attractive genres, leading to a lack of innovation in the less commercially attractive genres such as current affairs.

It was a theme picked up by Tony Hall
at Cambridge. “The Britishness of British broadcasting is under challenge. It’s obvious and measurable,” he said. C4 boss David Abraham warned the industry shouldn’t “sleepwalk” into a major change to its ecosystem. What does the world look like,
he asked, if ITV and Channel 4 are taken over, and the BBC is hit by a ‘different’ licence fee settlement? “Then you are in a different country. We really do need to wake up to the consequences of those cards falling in that way.”

Some, however, argued that the UK makes too much of its special TV ecology. Tom Mockridge, the CEO of Virgin Media, said: “I’ve worked in many countries. For a period I was a chairman of Bulgarian TV. Pretty much every country I have worked in believed that their TV was the best in the world...But there is a great deal of creativity around the world.”

Posted 12 October 2015 by Tim Dams

BFI London Film Festival: strong women on show

This month’s BFI London Film Festival puts diversity to the fore, focussing on films made by and starring women.

There are 238 films and documentaries playing at this month’s BFI London Film Festival, so it’s not easy picking out a single theme to unify such a diverse offering of movies from around the world.

Yet, the opening night gala of the 59th edition of the festival gives a strong clue about the key theme identified by the LFF programme team.

Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan alongside Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, fighting for women’s right to vote. It’s a film produced by  Alison Owen and Faye Ward, directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan.

In the words of festival director Clare Stewart: “It’s an extremely British film by British women about British women who changed the course of history.”

She calls the 2015 line-up, “the year of the strong woman.”

Stewart explains that once Suffragette had been secured as the opening night film, it gave the festival the opportunity to shine a light on gender diversity in the film industry, specifically the lack of strong roles for women on screen and the lack of women working behind the camera.

So strong women headline in a number of  the festival’s gala films: Kate Winslet standing up to the Apple boss in Steve Jobs; Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara falling in love in Carol; Saoirse Ronan in an adaptation of Brooklyn; and Maggie Smith as the irascible down and out in The Lady in the Van. Documentary He Named Me Malala is about the Pakistani schoolgirl targetted by the Taliban.

Actress Geena Davis is also at the festival to launch a global symposium on gender in the media. “It gives us a very strong platform on which to really focus the discussion around the representation of women and girls in film and media,” says Stewart.

Almost 50 of the festival’s films are directed by women. But, as Stewart acknowledges, that is only 20% of the programme.

Stewart argues that the barriers facing women film-makers increase as productions increase in scale and budget. “When cinema is at its most independent, there is a lot more equity both in terms of the roles you see in front of the camera and also who is calling the shots behind the scenes.” She points out that the balance of female to male directors in the festival’s short film competition is almost 50:50. But as the films become bigger in scale, the balance shifts: there are just three films directed by women in the gala section, two in official competition and three in first feature.

“There is definitely some kind of tipping point. But it is not easily definable – if it were we would have made better inroads in terms of addressing it.”

It is a similar story at other festivals: just 13% of competition films at last month’s Venice Film Festival were directed by women, while it was 26% at the Toronto International Film Festival, according to the Women In International Film Festivals website.

The TV industry fares little better than film. A landmark report published by Directors UK last year called for 30% of all original TV programmes to be directed by women, after publishing findings that showed women are particularly poorly represented in directing drama, comedy and entertainment programmes. Just 13% of dramas had a female director, and 8% of entertainment and comedy programmes.

The BFI London Film Festival runs 7-18 October

New talent on show at the LFF
Beyond the headline galas, there’s a wide range of up-and-coming filmmaking talent on show at the London Film Festival.

Festival director Clare Stewart describes director Chanya Button, behind road trip comedy Burn Burn Burn (pictured), as a “new comedic talent who came out of nowhere for us.”

Esther May Campbell’s Light Years plays in the First Feature competition, and is called a “really distinctive debut feature”. Stephen Fingleton’s The Survivalist is billed as “an impressive, powerful first feature.” Meanwhile, Andrew Steggall’s Departure, about a mother and son packing up a French country house, has a “really incredible sensibility.”

Posted 08 October 2015 by Tim Dams

Drama bonanza - or glut? - at Mipcom

As each year passes, the TV market Mipcom is becoming more and more like its movie cousin the Cannes Film Festival.

This year’s event is dominated by epic, filmic dramas that are launching with screenings attended by cast and crew.

Tonight (Tuesday 6 October) sees the world premiere screening of 20th Century Fox Television Distribution’s The X-Files, which returns with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson more than 20 years since the iconic series first launched.

Last night, it was the turn of Sky Atlantic and Canal +’s European crime thriller The Last Panthers, which had a very well received world premiere screening with stars Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim, Goran Bogdan on the stage.

Other big drama screenings include Sony Pictures's The Art of More with all its cast attending, Endemol Shine’s The Frankenstein Chronicles, Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience, Electric Entertainment’s Mercy Street and Showtime’s Billions, starring Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis.

Meanwhile, the BBC showed off sneak previews today of its lavish, beautiful-looking adaptation of War and Peace, which was shot on location in and around the palaces and streets of St Petersburg, Russia.

And ITV chief executive Adam Crozier was on stage yesterday at Mipcom, revealing plans for a major US scripted push. The broadcaster is in Cannes this week pushing its new ITV Studios produced big budget dramas such as Beowulf and Jekyll & Hyde.

The strong drama programme at Mipcom reflects the surge in production of scripted content that has taken place in recent years, as broadcasters as well as platforms like Netflix and Amazon battle for viewers with must-have content headlined by international stars.

By contrast, the kinds of programmes that dominated the market in the 2000s - formats, reality, game shows and entertainment – appear to have been sidelined at Mipcom.

It has led to well-documented concerns of a bubble in the TV drama market. “There is simply too much television,” warned FX Networks boss John Landgraf this summer, arguing viewers were overwhelmed by options.

Judging by all the sumptuous dramas on offer at Mipcom this year, he may have a point.

However, one of the UK's leading drama writers and producers - Red Planet Picture's Tony Jordan - says that the push by broadcasters and platforms to invest in more drama is perfectly understandable. Jordan, who is promoting his 20-part BBC1 serial Dickensian at Mipcom, says: "Drama can define a network in a way that no other genre can."

Posted 06 October 2015 by Tim Dams

Production 100: indie growth hits a ceiling

After years of impressive growth, there is a real sense that the fortunes of the independent sector have begun to plateau. That’s the key message coming from producer feedback to Televisual’s Production 100 in 2015.

Against a background of an improving economy, the business climate for many independent production companies has been generally good in the past year.

UK producers have continued to make stand out programmes – from Wolf Hall through to Catastrophe and Terror at the Mall – for their UK broadcaster clients.

They are also continuing to pursue opportunities with US and international broadcasters. And deep pocketed digital players are commissioning major shows from UK outfits, like Left Bank’s £100m The Crown for Netflix and the ex-Top Gear team’s reported £160m deal with Amazon.

Behind the scenes, though, most producers have been grappling with a series of challenges. Some are day-to-day business issues that have been present for several years: tightening production budgets, rising costs as well as commissioning delays. But others are symptoms of a profound changes wrought by digital technology.

In both the key UK and US markets, established broadcasters have come under huge pressure in the face of declining audiences, with the phenomenon most pronounced amongst the young. In the UK, the BBC’s budget looks under threat ahead of a licence fee review that will focus on its purpose in the digital age.

Faced with uncertainty about their business model, many broadcasters have diversified into production. There have been major investments in production by the likes of ITV, Sky and Discovery. ITV Studios’ UK production turnover now stands at £459m, putting it at the very front rank of UK ‘mega- indie’ groups.

This only looks set to continue, as the BBC prepares to ‘liberate’  its production division to compete with indies for commissions at rival broadcasters. “Consolidation in the form of broadcasters buying indies and the BBC’s intention to launch their studios project will reduce market opportunities,” argues Firecracker chief executive Sue Oriel.

The sense of competition has also been fanned by a swathe of production start-ups from well-known execs branching out on their own, such as Little Gem, Hungry Bear, Curve Media, Znak&Jones, New Pictures, Plimsoll and 7 Wonder.

However, UK commissioning spend has been broadly flat since 2012, according to Pact’s latest industry census, while international revenues dipped last year. Total industry revenues stood at £2.9bn in 2014, says Pact. This picture of an industry that has, for now, reached a ceiling is confirmed by indie responses to the question of how they see the outlook for their business in the coming year. The majority, 43%, say their fortunes will remain the same.

Against this background of flatlining spend and a growing number of production companies, it’s little wonder that one of the most commonly used words in the Production 100 in 2015 is ‘competitive’.

Asked to describe the business climate of the past year, Kudos’ head of finance Jamie Mayers says:  “There’s been lots of opportunity but also massive competition.”

Fellow drama indie Red Planet says business is good, but acknowledges increased competition.

The business climate continues to be very competitive, adds North One general manager Andrew Simmonds – noting that indies have always had to fight for commissions.

Many smaller and medium sized indies admit the competitive nature of the industry is difficult to manage. “The past year has been tough,” says Outline md Laura Mansfield. “Broadcasters are increasingly risk averse, competition is fiercer than ever, and it’s getting harder to be a smaller fish swimming with sharks. We’re a mid sized company, with the overheads to service long running series, which means you are exposed when things go up and down.”

In the UK, there are familiar complaints that budgets continue to fall or reduce in real terms. The consensus among Production 100 indies is that they are down 2.6% on average over the year.

CPL business manager Alexandra Kallis says one of the key challenges is “making a profit thanks to the ever tightening UK production margins.”

Meanwhile, Blast! Films md Claire Bosworth says it is difficult “maintaining quality as programme budgets reduce.” Love Productions md Lety Kavanagh adds: “It’s been challenging to meet the ever changing needs of broadcasters, delivering bigger and bolder editorial ideas with smaller production budgets.” There is a real “tension between the need for increasingly attention grabbing creative with downward budgetary pressures,” says Optomen’s coo Helen Manley.

As a result, UK producers are increasingly having to pull in co- production partners to make up for budget shortfalls. Lining up co- production funding takes time, effort and money. “We seem to spend a vast amount of time trying to make up the shortfall in commissioner contributions with outside funding to get projects away, and very often taking the hit of the budget shortfall ourselves,” says Back2Back operations director Rebecca Notman-Watt.

Like many indie bosses, Boundless md Hannah Wyatt describes business as “very good”. But then comes a caveat: “Getting the commission is only half the battle. You need to be increasingly inventive in doing deals and to find creative funding models, especially around big ambitious ideas.”

The need to find co-pro finance used to be the preserve of drama and kids production, but is now commonplace in factual too. TJ Sherbrooke, head of development at Thumbs Up, says a key challenge is “finding deficit funding as broadcasters more frequently cannot fully fund.”

Meanwhile, Tern creative director Harry Bell is one of many who notes that rights income is being hit by the need to bring on board co-producers. “UK commissions via international co-pro or distributor advance is a huge new challenge. It also means the specialist factual space that the profits on secondary revenue sales have been swallowed up.” Tiger Aspect md Sophie Clarke-Jervoise adds: “With such large distribution advances needed to fund programmes, secondary income is declining.”

Budgets are being put under further strain by the rising cost of on and off screen talent amid increased competition for top talent.“There  are shortages of truly skilled people bringing upward pressure on pay that, in the face of downward pressure
on tariffs, mean most productions run on very little margin these days, unless volume is commissioned,” says Firecracker chief exec Sue Oriel.

In certain genres, such as drama, the problem is particularly acute. Tiger Aspect’s Clarke-Jervoise says: “The general increase in high end scripted production is pushing up crew rates and creating a shortage of good crews.” There is a particular shortage of drama producers in the industry, adds House of Tomorrow managing director Annabel Jones. Trying to retain top talent while broadcasters delay commissioning decisions is also a major issue for many indies.

Many companies producing outside London say the push by broadcasters to commission in the nations and regions is welcome – but that there is a shortage of talent. “Finding and retaining key talent in Scotland,” is an issue for Firecrest creative director Nicole Kleeman.

Plenty of indies say that the rising cost of office space in London is creating financial headaches which compound budget shortfalls. “Office rents in our part of north London are going through the roof,” says Islington-based Hardcash md David Henshaw. “The rising cost of rent in London has hit us hard – broadcast budgets do not keep pace with the cost of space,and we’ve had to do some clever thinking to restructure our space in line with our needs and budgets,” says Outline md Laura Mansfield.

Nevertheless, the UK is regarded by most indies as the market with most opportunities for them; the average indie generates 62.6% of its turnover from UK broadcaster commissions.

Factual, drama, sport and AFP/ branded content are viewed as the key growth genres according to many producers. “There continues to be a strong market for UK factual,” argues Shine TV head of commercial Kate Ward. “Broadcasters still want quality factual and current affairs content,” notes Brook Lapping head of production Andrew McKerlie. Discovery-owned Betty says that “the UK remains strong for us and specialist factual and adventure are the new growth genres.” Other indies say they are seeing growth in popular factual.

High barriers to entry mean sports indies are doing well. Sunset+Vine md John Leach says: “Sport output and demand continues to grow at the same time as broadcasters are producing less inhouse.”

Digital is a growth area for many indies, although revenues remain small. Digital revenues accounted for only 1.6% of the average indie. “The biggest growth area is in digital but because the licence fees tend to be much smaller the opportunity doesn’t add a lot to our turnover, as yet,” says  Kindle’s Jacqueline McGee. There are opportunities in licencing content to on demand platforms, as well as producing for digital platforms. “Since the closure of BBC3 was announced, the iPlayer now seems like a real place of opportunity for new programmes,” explains Zeppotron’s director of operations Debra Blenkinsop. “We’re seeing growth in the digital space,  in particular with our network of YouTube channels,” adds Remarkable director of production Susan King.

Greater investment into drama has had knock-on effects. It has not only made the genre more competitive, with a swathe of film producers and new entrants such as Studio Lambert pushing into non-fiction, but it has also hit genres like comedy and entertainment where spend is perceived to be falling.

Many say there is a distinct lack of entertainment slots at the BBC in particular. “It feels like fewer things are being commissioned generally in comedy entertainment across the board,” says Zeppotron’s Debra Blenkinsop. There are “considerably fewer opportunities in our genre,” notes Jon Rolph, md of comedy indie Retort.

Googlebox md Mat Steiner reports a “narrowing of entertainment opportunities.” The imminent closure of BBC3 is seen as a significant blow by many producers.

More broadly, many indies flag up concerns about the creative ambition of UK television, arguing that there is a flight to the familiar at beleaguered broadcasters with many of the same old brands dominating the schedules for year after year.

Not only does this mean that British television is becoming less distinctive, it means there are fewer slots for indies to pitch into. Broadcasters are also being cautious in the amount of episodes they commission: “It’s tricky to get first runs of eight episodes – four episodes are increasingly being suggested,” says Maverick chief creative officer Mark Downie.

Common to all genres, say indies, is a real problem with slow broadcaster commissioning. Complaints about the speed of commissioning have long been a feature of the Production 100, but this year they are much more noticeable. Delays in commissioning are cited as one of the key challenges for indies as varied as Maverick, Clear Story, CPL, Keo, Nutopia and Mentorn.

Many cite a round of changes in commissioning editors at key broadcasters this year, with plenty of upheaval at the BBC and C4 in particular. “Changes amongst all the broadcasters of key commissioners have proved difficult for development,” says Reef md Paul Hanrahan. The lead times from pitch to production can sometimes take 12-18 months, says Optomen’s Helen Manley.

Development is taking far longer than it used to. “Being put into paid development used to mean a commission was on the horizon, not any longer,” notes Firecracker’s Sue Oriel. Converting paid development into programming and series is cited as a key challenge by Boomerang md Gareth Rees.

Many producers cite problems with cash flow as result of waiting for decisions. “The speed of commissions coupled with increased costs in R&D has led to strains on cash flow,” admits Keo Films financial controller Christopher Day. “Nobody can make a decision which affects cashflow,” adds Back to Back operations director Rebecca Notman-Watt.

The international market is still viewed as a major opportunity for indies. Global expansion has been the big story of the past five years, particularly in the US. International production revenues now account for an average of 18.5% of indie turnovers, up slightly from last year’s 18%.

For some indies, the figure is far higher. Internationally focused outfits like Windfall, Nutopia, Wag, Left Bank, Sixteen South, Pacific and Arrow earn at least 70% of
their revenues from international broadcasters. The majority of indies say international production is the area they are seeing most growth in.

However, many report that the US market has slowed. Pay-TV operators in the US have been under pressure for the past year as ratings have fallen sharply, a phenomenon blamed on “cord-cutting” and cheaper digital options such as Netflix.

“The US market has been very tricky except for established programme brands because of the downward trend in real time viewing. We have heard from numerous
contacts that ‘it’s all over’ for cable/satellite channels with huge downward pressure on budgets becoming obvious in pitching sessions/deal memos coming through,” says Firecracker’s Sue Oriel. This is a point confirmed by other indies who say the US has ‘withered’ and is ‘less buoyant’. That said the US remains a substantial opportunity for those who are able to crack the world’s biggest TV market.

See Televisual's Reports and Section for the full Production 100 survey

Posted 30 September 2015 by Tim Dams

IMG tops Televisual's Production 100 survey

Sports producer IMG tops the Production 100, Televisual’s annual survey of the UK television production sector, for the third year in row.

IMG’s credits include an array of sports, from horse racing, snooker and Wimbledon tennis through to Premier League football.

Published in the September issue of Televisual, the Production 100 has ranked the leading production outfits in the UK every year since 1993.

Avalon TV, part of the Avalon Entertainment empire, comes in second place, with TV highlights this year including C4 comedy hit Catastrophe and BBC2’s Russell Howard’s Good News.

The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent co-producer Thames is ranked in third place this year, while Bad Education, Peaky Blinders and Fortitude producer Tiger Aspect takes fourth position.

TOWIE producer Lime is fifth, while Educating the East End inide Twofour is ranked sixth. Sports indie Sunset+Vine is 7th, drama outfit Left Bank is 8th, Call the Midwife indie Neal Street takes 9th and Googlebox producer Studio Lambert is 10th.

Meanwhile, Twofour was voted the most admired indie by its fellow producers in the Production 100 Peer Poll, followed by The Garden and Love Productions.

The combined turnover of the top 100 production companies stands at £1.77bn this year, down from last year’s £1.93bn and 2013’s £2.1bn.

This points to a downturn in the sector, although strict year on year comparisons  are difficult to make as a small number of indies chose not to take part in the Production 100 each year. 

In their absence we conclude that the fortunes of the sector have plateaued this year. A number of larger producers – such as Avalon, Tiger Aspect and Hat Trick – have had a very good year, with turnover significantly up.

A handful of drama outfits – Left Bank, Neal Street and Red – have also seen turnover shoot up on the back of big budget commissions.

But many of the larger production companies have seen turnover dip, amid signs that growth is becoming harder to achieve in today’s market. Seven out of last year’s top ten have posted turnover falls.

Some of the slack has been picked up by smaller, independent outfits like Arrow, Wild Pictures, Burning Bright, Eleven Film, Minnow Films and Knickerbockerglory.

The top 100 are ranked according to the turnover of their UK operations.

See Televisual’s September issue for the full Production 100 survey.

(The cover image for the Production 100 was designed by Matt Lawrence, head of design at Envy.)

Posted 03 September 2015 by Tim Dams

Harry Enfield stars in TV diversity film

It’s worth having a look at this film starring Harry Enfield, which highlights the issue of diversity in television and is made for Creative Skillset.

The film was premiered at the Edinburgh TV Festival at a diversity networking drinks attended by TV execs and the Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey.

Harry stars as Haanes, a South African émigré who arrived in the UK in the late 1980s and then found work in television in this country. To say the very least, he has a rather backward and outdated view of the world – based around an era that we all thought had passed.

Nevertheless Haanes sees many things that he recognises in the Television industry in 2015…

Posted 02 September 2015 by Tim Dams
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