The UK is “sleepwalking” towards a serious, long-term weakening of its TV production industry, according to BBC director general Tony Hall.

Citing the rise of global SVoD players, budget pressures on the BBC and dwindling ad revenues at commercial broadcasters, Hall warned that a £500m gap will open up between the amount that is spent on UK content now and the amount that will be spent in 2026.

He said the £500m shortfall, calculated in a specially commissioned report by research firm Mediatique, would not be made up by SVoD companies like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

“Up until now, while the global giants have seen their revenues rise substantially, this hasn’t translated into an increased investment in British content.“

Hall warned that their investment decisions are likely to focus on a narrow range of very expensive, very high-end shows like The Crown or The Grand Tour that can attract large, global audiences.

“Even the most generous calculations suggest they are barely likely to make up half of the £500m gap in British content over the decade ahead… And a more realistic forecast points to them contributing substantially less.”

Hall added: “What this adds up to is not just a real risk to the volume and breadth of British content, but also – as the report warns – a potentially damaging impact on UK distinctiveness, risk-taking, and innovation.“ 

“We have to face the reality that the British content we value, and our audiences love and rely upon, is under serious threat.”

Hall also noted that the decisions taken on the west coast of the US are increasingly shaping the TV landscape in the UK.

He pointed out that ten years ago, around 83% of independent production companies in the UK were either UK or European owned. The figure today is 40%, with the rest owned by US multinationals.

Hall used the figures to stress the increasing importance of the BBC in the new TV landscape, particularly its role in nurturing talent and investing in high-quality British content across all genres.

“We need to look at the BBC afresh – not in terms of our place in a domestic market, but in terms of the broader role we can play in helping to strengthen UK production in a global market.”

Hall also cited an Ipsos MORI report which examined the factors which divide Britain and those that bring it together. The report concluded that British content on TV remains a key part of national life.

Hall was delivering the Roscoe lecture at Liverpool John Moores University yesterday.

Tim Dams

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