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Production 100, 2013 Back to Reports & survey Listing

For the first time since the downturn began in late 2007, indies are feeling distinctly bullish about the future. Indeed, the words “positive”, “good” and “optimistic” crop up more times than Televisual has ever seen in responses to the Production 100 survey.

Asked what they think the outlook for their business is in the coming 12 months, 54% say it will get better compared to last year (up from 36% last year). By comparison 40% thought business prospects would stay the same. Only 6% thought that prospects look worse in the next 12 months.

In large part, the optimism is the result of indies having diversified into the global market place during the worst of the recession – and now they are reaping the rewards in terms of a growing number of commissions from global broadcasters, even while the UK market remains flat at best.

Two Four managing director Melanie Leach sums up the situation for many indies when she says: “We are anticipating relatively flat growth in the UK and significant growth in the US.”

Nutopia md Carl Griffin, meanwhile, is anticipating “continued expansion into the US broadcasters including co-productions and a focus on UK and format sales. The outlook is very positive.”

All3Media is predicting double digit growth in the US both through its new LA production hub and through its established New York production entities.

Others, like Blakeway Productions, are expanding further afield into markets such as China.

Gogglebox Entertainment md Adam Wood adds that he is “optimistic about international growth, especially in the US.”

Within the UK, business is expected to remain challenging in the face of pressure on broadcaster budgets. Despite this, a swathe of indies say that they diversified in search of business during the downturn and that this will pay dividends as the economy picks up.

Betty CEO Liz Warner says: “The prospects look good – we have far more returning series as a business bedrock, we have really upped our doc expertise and moved into new genres such as history and specialist factual.”

Blue Zoo director Oli Hyatt adds: “The year ahead will be busy, with a good mix of commercials, programming and corporate work. Excitingly this year we start work on our film development.”

Boundless is particularly optimistic. Managing director Patrick Holland says he expects turnover to increase by 25% on the back of a new slate of shows in the pipeline.

Wag TV is also positive. “We’re working with lots of new channels and we’re producing a wider range of content,” says head of production Steven Green.

Indeed, many indies have diversified to take advantage of growing opportunities for moving image content on more platforms. Off the Fence’s COO Darrel James says: “The outlook is very positive. Our production slate is expanding significantly and the demand for finished content remains strong – particularly in the digital space.”

Perhaps as the larger indies have turned to the US in search of business, it’s opened up more opportunities for mid-sized producers in the UK. Outline Productions’ Laura Mansfield says: “It’s busy and really exciting. We have the best range of content in production that we have had for a long time plus some really fruitful new developments coming through. We are highly optimistic – if tired!”

However, comments about the UK market are usually accompanied by remarks on how challenging it is expected to remain. “Pressure on existing show margins will continue and new show margins will be low in order to be competitive to secure commissions. It is hoped that international commissions will lead to significant growth for the business,” say Lime Pictures joint mds Kate Little and Claire Poyser.

Tiger Aspect says it has new series and returning series commissioned to produce next year. “However with margins being squeezed all the time and gap funding harder to find - even though the UK Creative Tax Break is helping with this - we have to get more and more shows commissioned just to maintain existing levels of company profit,” says Tiger’s Iain McCallum

Spun Gold says it has put a lot of effort into diversifying its commissioning base both in the UK and abroad, while consolidating its existing commercial relationships. Spun Gold director of finance Simon Gray says: “This means that the forecast for the business in 2013 and 2014 is looking quite good. Most UK broadcasters appear to be increasing the number of commissioned hours which is offsetting the fall in tariffs. Hopefully this means that the UK as a whole is emerging from the recessionary period as the large broadcasting companies see their forecast revenues and profits increasing.”

Smaller companies still say that business is tough in the face of competition from deeper pocketed superindie rivals, particularly without the bedrock of a returning series. “We’re reasonably optimistic about some good work coming in, but whether a small ‘bespoke’ company is really sustainable is always up for discussion,” says Wildfire md Philip Clarke.

Even among the smaller companies, though, there’s more confidence than usual. “We have high hopes for next year after a slow couple of years. All the signs are good,” says Raw Cut director Bill Rudgard.

Documentary maker Bungalow Town says the outlook is uncertain, although on balance it is feeling more optimistic rather than less. Director Jez Lewis explains: “If all potential opportunities are realised we will have to recruit in order to meet them, and that would be great. If none are realised we will be in trouble. We expect the reality to be somewhere in between, but we are optimistic we will be able to feel more secure rather than less.”

In fact the outlook for the year ahead is perhaps best summed up by Dragonfly head of finance Lee Attreed.  “The forecast is sunny with intermittent showers.”


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