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October 2017
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Production 100 2012 Back to Reports & survey Listing

Indepedents are surprisingly optimistic about their prospects for 2013, citing international markets as a key driver for growth

Promising. Strong. Busy. Healthy. Confident.  Challenging. Stable. Positive. Rosy. Robust. Bright. Fragile. Good. Unpredictable. Optimistic.

These are just some of the words that independent production companies use to describe the outlook for their business for the year ahead.
The majority, it’s clear, are feeling upbeat and positive, with a minority citing concerns that the weak economy will affect their business.

The positivity is borne out in the figures too. Some 36% think 2013 business will be better, while 51% believe it will remain the same. By comparison, 13% think the production climate will deteriorate this year.

Many say they believe growth will come both from increased commissioning by a wider range of UK broadcasters, as well as continued expansion into international markets.

This builds on a theme that first became apparent in last year’s Production 100: the efforts by indies to diversify their businesses. During the three year TV downturn that began in 2008, many producers were compelled to look for new sources of income as orders from British broadcasters dried up. And many sought revenues from international markets, with the US a particular focus for new business.

Betty chief executive Liz Warner seems to speak for many when she says that the outlook for next year is, “healthy, with growing UK broadcaster spend, increasing demand from international and Europe opening up as a potential market.”
Indeed, things seem even more encouraging than last year’s survey. Then international growth was seen as a way to offset a decline in UK business. Now the international growth is continuing, but the domestic market is stronger thanks to the increased commissioning by a wider range of broadcasters (as outlined in the Production 100 introduction, page 4)
Meanwhile, indies have also moved into digital production, creating games, apps and interactive content – although few make serious money in this area. Branded content production is picking up, with several indies taking advantage of the relaxation of rules around ad funded programming and product placement.

Some producers have specialised in 3d production, or sought to save money by bringing post production inhouse. It’s also now more familiar to find broadcast indies working in corporate production, film or commercials. 

In effect, the last few years have been about indies broadening their customer base. Their focus is no longer on a handful of terrestrial broadcasters, the BBC, ITV, C4 and C5.

International expansion
The trend for the international expansion of indies is continuing apace, with the North American market the focus of many companies’ activities. All of the main superindie groups now have a significant presence in the US, whether through acquisition or by organic growth.  But it is not just the superindies. Pulse Films set up a New York office this year, and Twofour is opening an American production office which, it says, “represents a significant investment in the company’s international expansion.”

The US continues to be a strong market for UK indies to pitch into and to win business from. And it’s providing a welcome boost to the bottom line of many producers.

“The degree of international and particularly US interest in British content is seemingly waxing strongly and this offers exciting opportunities for growth,” says Keo Films’ finance director Simon Huntley.

Recent figures from Pact back up the comments. International buyers spent £652m on UK indie productions in 2011, up from £495m. Revenues from the sales of UK programming abroad grew 36% to £119m.

“I think the next 18 months will be strong for the company with returning business on t he horizon for the UK and US. We have two major series both here and in the US set to return. This gives us a fantastic bedrock from which to build the business,” London and Los Angeles based Rize USA, part of the DCD Media group. “Growth in the US has delivered good results,” says Argonon finance director Stuart Mullin. Meanwhile, Firecracker’s managing director Sue Oriel, says the outlook is “excellent – the US presents many challenges but ones we feel we can rise to with appropriate support.”

Some, however, flag up concerns about the US market – particularly that the kind of content US broadcasters are after will be difficult for UK indies to supply. “The current vogue for character-led domestic programming in the United States is potentially a challenge as it is harder for non-US companies to compete in that space,” says Oxford Scientific’s chief executive Clare Birks.
It’s not just the US that is proving strong for British indies. The demand for UK programmes from other international markets continues, bolstered by the UK’s reputation for quality and creativity. 

The outlook for the year ahead is better, says Tern Television’s managing director David Strachan “because we have broken into international markets.” 3DD’s chief executive Dominic Saville says, “internationally there are pockets of opportunity – such as Latin America and Asia” so his outlook is positive despite a flat UK market.

British producers also say they will increasingly turn to international markets in the year ahead to raise money for their programmes.  Parthenon says there is “much more emphasis on co-production, both funding and producing.” Sixteen South’s head of production Julie Gardner says it has just gone into production on its first mixed media animated series Driftwood Bay which it has already pre-sold to a number of major territories. “We’re in discussion too with a number of co-pro partners to produce more shows in the next year.” Gardner adds: “In the past yer, we’ve moved from a position of producing for UK broadcasters to a position of producing intertrnationally…we’ve made this decision not only to grow our company, but also to seek out quality commissions with larger budgets which allows us to create higher quality shows with a larger audience.”

Investing in staff and development
Many indies report that they have invested in their companies over the past year – either in staff or in development or both – and that they hope to enjoy growth as a result of this investment.

Keo Films, for example, says it has invested in new creative and managerial talent and, as a result, “feels fairly optimistic for continued growth.” DLT, which lost its key commission My Family last year after 11 series, has invested in staff and is broadening its development as a result – and says it feels positive for the year ahead. Twofour, meanwhile, says “there is increased investment planned for the UK executive team which we anticipate will drive further growth through 2013.”
So too does Minnow Films. The documentary maker’s head of production Clare Voyce says: “We have got more paid developments with different broadcasters than we have had in previous years.” Factual producer Outline Productions echoes this sentiment: “We feel very positive as we have a number of new returnable formats in play with channels,” says managing director Laura Mansfield.

Indie producers, of course, have to be optimistic and positive by nature to see themselves through an unpredictable business like TV. But the confidence that development will actually lead to commissions for next year is particularly pronounced in this year’s Production 100 survey. “We have some major projects in development with broadcasters so with a bit of luck we will have a very busy year ahead,” says Attaboy TV director Andrew Shaw. Modern TV director Clare Byrne says the company has just been given development funding for its first ever network TV drama.  Others stress the ongoing tension between running existing shows while focusing on development. “We have a number of shows in production which throws up the positive challenge of balancing time spent in managing those shows versus time spent in investing in our future,” says Kindle, producer of CBBC’s Leonardo.

investing in Post production
Indies are investing in other ways too. With the cost of post production kit becoming ever more affordable, a significant number have brought post production inhouse. DCD Media, for example, acquired Sequence Post this year, both to handle the group’s post production and also to service post for other companies. Reef Television is another indie to have invested in post this year. Reef’s head of production Paul Hanrahan comments: “Our post production department has recently expanded with 10 HD Avid suites and this continues to bring revenues into the company.”

True North says it has invested in staff, development and post – and expects a boost as a result. Creative director Glyn Middleton  comments: “With a substantial investment in senior development staff, a greater number of commissions have been secured in a wider range of genres than ever before and turnover is projected to be 50% higher than the last 12 months. Thanks to investment in a new post production wing, we will retain a greater share of this income – so the future looks very bright.”

Digital and 3d production
Last year, a number of indies said that they were looking for growth by creating digital content in the year ahead – such as games, apps and interactive content. Indeed a host of indies rolled out apps for shows such as Supernanny, The X Factor and MasterChef.

It’s hard to pick up on any great enthusiasm for creating multiplatform content in this year’s Production 100 survey, though. Indies have found it very difficult to monetise new media production, even acknowledged specialists in the area such as Keo Films and Maverick Productions.

Instead many indies have focused  their efforts on licencing their existing content to new media platforms such as YouTube, Hulu and Netflix. But, once again, indies say they are struggling to achieve strong revenues from digital. “We will look at new media opportunities but these currently only extend to recycling existing productions on to new platforms such as YouTube and revenues are still fairly low,” says Spun Gold’s director of finance Simon Gray.

Perhaps this will change in coming years though. All3Media, for example, recently said digital would account for 11% of group profits in 2011/12. And this year there has been more evidence of a desire for original content from the likes of Hulu and Netflix, with both earmarking funds for original productions and making their first investments. Fresh One’s head of talent Helen Pratt says: “We feel that the new platforms and competition for originated content is good for us.”

Similarly, in last year’s survey there was widespread enthusiasm for 3d production, with many indies saying they had seen business pick up on the back of 3d work. The feedback this year about 3d is more muted. It seems that 3d production has coalesced around a few companies with recognised expertise in the format such as Atlantic Productions and Bigger Pictures – and for those few outfits it has led to a pick up in business. Atlantic Productions, for example, has made a number of 3D shows including Flying Monsters 3D and Kingdom of Plants 3D with David Attenborough, while Bigger Pictures has produced Brian May’s History of 3D and Britain and Ireland from the Sky for Sky 3D. Atlantic says the outlook for the year ahead is “good for both high end 3D and 2D.”

Impact of the Tax credit

Real growth is expected for many in the high end drama and animation sectors, though. The tax credit announced by Chancellor George Osborne in this year’s budget has prompted real hope of transformational change in these genres. Blue-Zoo’s Oli Hyatt, who was instrumental in lobbying for the tax credit through Animation UK, says the next 12 months look “really positive.” He explains: “With a tax credit we will become one of the look to countries in the world to do animation and Blue-Zoo are right at the forefront of this.” A similar kind of enthusiasm is palpable among drama producers too – albeit the few who produce dramas with budgets of over £1m. Kudos chief operating officer Daniel Isaacs says the outlook is very good. “The potential introduction of a UK tax credit for high value drama will be a massive boost for the production sector.”
As is clear, most indies taking part in the Production 100 seem pretty optimistic about the outlook for the next 12 months. But they realise that, as always, growth will only come with effort and hard work – and many say they need to work even more concertedly to achieve this. “We continue to grow but continue to have to work ever harder to keep that growth going!” says Gogglebox Entertainment’s Mat Steiner.
And surely HCA Entertainment’s chief executive Henry Cole speaks for many when he says the outlook into 2013 is, “The same as it ever was – living on your wits and only having yourself to blame if you don’t get the commissions.”

Independent producers on the outlook for the year ahead
 “We expect sustained growth within a difficult economic climate and a very competitive market,” is how sports producer Input Media sums up its outlook for the year ahead. It’s a take that encapsulates the views of many indies for the next 12 months – a mixture of bullishness and caution.  “The outlook from a development perspective is good but the competitive environment in drama is very strong at present,” says Mammoth Screen, while Lambent comments: “The economic climate and cuts make for a challenging year ahead. But it is looking promising as we have lots of projects in development.” The postive outlook is shared by numerous indies including: Argonon, Atlantic, Back2Back, Big Talk, Blink, Carnival, ClearStory, Electric Sky, Fresh One, Icon, Illuminations, Initial, Kudos, Lupus, Monkey, Outline, Princess, Pulse, Quicksilver, Red, Red Planet, Seventh Art, Shed, Somethin’ Else, Testimony, The Garden, Thumbs Up, True North, True Vision, Wag TV, Warp and Windfall. Many, like Testimony, are optimistic because “there are many opportunities out there.” Tiger Aspect, however, points out many of the worries of indies - saying it is “generally tough because of the BBC licence fee freeze, rising costs, static tariffs, tougher negotiations with broadcasters over rights and C4 commissioning editor changes.” Oxford Film and TV thinks the climate is similar to last year - “so broadly flat to slightly up.”


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