There’s a marked sense of dissatisfaction about pay rates in broadcasting and production, according to Televisual’s 18th annual survey of pay. At first glance, this is rather puzzling. After all, at £47.7k, the average pay in broadcasting and production comfortably outstrips the national average of £26.5k.

A television director, for example, can expect to earn an average of £46.4k, while a producer is likely to take home £43.4k or an assistant producer £30.9k. At the very top end, production can pay very handsomely – our survey throws up examples of the managing director of a commercials production outfit on £300k, the chief executive of a TV indie on £225k, an executive producer on £140k and a colourist on £140k.

Strong demand for top level talent has kept pay levels buoyant at the upper echelons of production. As a string of stories about pay rates at the BBC proves, senior level executives at the leading broadcasters are also paid handsomely for their services.

Futhermore, 46% of respondents said their pay had risen in the past year – at a time when many industries are experiencing widespread pay freezes.

Yet for the majority of workers in broadcasting and production, it’s a rather different story. 40.2% said their earnings had stayed the same, while 13.9% said they had fallen over the course of 2012.

(For the full survey figures see the following tables: Annual pay rates; day and weekly rates; pay by sector, age, gender and region)

Our survey, based on the responses of 690 Televisual readers throws up specific areas of concern raised by those in the middle and lower ranks of production.

In part, of course, this is because many of those who choose to provide comments for our survey do so because they are dissatisfied with their earnings. And those who are well paid rarely come forward to admit as much.

But the complainants reveal several difficult truths about the industry, namely: a continuing and large pay gap between men and women; static earnings being eroded by inflation; very low rates of pay for newcomers; anger over long hours and weekend work; and a big pay gap between those at the top and those in the ‘squeezed middle’ and lower ranks.

Worryingly, many say that they are considering leaving the industry because of its unpredictable levels of pay and working conditions. Well educated and technically adept, many workers look enviously over their shoulders at friends who have embarked on different careers and earn more.

Says one 28-year-old Telecine/colourist assistant on £22k: “If I had five years experience in any other industry I am almost positive that I would be earning far more in London than I do now. Sometimes it’s quite embarrassing how little I earn in comparison to my friends who work in other industries. Yet they are the ones who work 9am-6pm with an hour lunch – with none of the hassle of shift work, varying work schedules, annoying clients and guilt-trip overtime/overruns that I have to deal with. Sometimes 
I wonder if it’s at all worth it.”

On the hand, it’s worth considering the view of this 32 year old production manager (on £32k), who ruefully – and perhaps accurately – acknowledges that production and broadcasting is often more varied and interesting than other kinds of jobs: “It’s not a career that you follow for the money…”

Downward pressure
Top of the complaints among respondents to our survey is the pressure on wages. Pay rises are rare, says one script editor on £25k, while additional duties and ‘promotion’ are common. A producer/director earning £59k says: “I have hit a brick wall. My rate has not gone up in two years and, due to limits in our production budget, it’s becoming even more impossible for me to get a raise in pay.” A Bristol-based editor on £36k adds: “I’m on roughly the same per day rate (£280) as I was 12 years ago.”

All the while, inflation is eroding the value of take home pay – creating a gloomy outlook for many. “My salary has remained pretty static for the last six years while expenses have gone up. Frankly it feels really tough given I have a family who rely on me. I worry about my retirement, paying off the mortgage, a whole bunch of things and I can only see things getting worse in the future,” says a 47-year-old producer/director.

A series producer on £70k explains: “I’m continuously offered less and less. The usual offer is £1500 per week. It’s a real struggle to keep at 1600 per week. And as schedules shorten downtime is increasing. I do wonder if there is any future for experienced series producers.”

And there’s a strong sense that the workforce is doing much more for their money too – and that it’s angry about it. One 40 year old self-shooting producer/director on £30k says: “The pressure on rates is getting really bad. It’s getting really hard to make a living and support a household/mortgage/family without working 50 weeks a year, which would be fine if you are working a 37.5 hour week but not when you work 12-15 hours a day and are constantly away from home….

He adds: “You agree a weekly rate and then find that it’s a six day week not five but they didn’t bother to mention that at interview. Bullshit reasons are given for the low pay rate like ‘it’s a daytime budget’ (even though TX is after 6pm and even 7pm. We have to pay you this because ‘Programme X’ (a sister production within the company) pays X.  Later you find that this isn’t true. Indies are by far the worst for this.

Meanwhile on screen talent get paid a packet and act like prima donnas. Crew seem to be paying the price for unrealistic programme budgets and increasing company profit margins. The industry needs to wake up, it’s killing itself.”

Long, long hours
Our survey respondents target their blame for their stagnating pay largely on broadcasters for squeezing programme budgets.  But they complain loudly at the impact on their pay and working conditions that are enforced by production and post production companies as a result.

One 32-year-old post production producer on £38k (and a day rate of £250) comments: “It’s frustrating that because of declining budgets, rates are stagnating in spite of my experience increasing. The big three post houses are prepared to pay higher rates but you know they are going to get their pound of flesh in hours worked. At a recent company I was averaging a 55 hour week. So in essence you are working an 11 hour day on average which means that the day rate isn’t that great after all.”

Indeed, the amount of hours squeezed out of production workers is a big source of contention.

Salaries are “too low for the amount of work and effort required and hours spent at work,” says one TV director who earns £66k a year.  A researcher on £24k adds: “Salaries do not reflect the hours worked…they are advertised as 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday but in reality it is 12 hour days including weekends… unless you’re on shoot and then its 16 hour days.”

Issues such as holiday pay, days off in lieu, buy outs and insufficient travel costs are raised frequently by respondents. “I work hard, often long days and at weekends but always on a buyout, and schedules are getting shorter. As a producer director there is little choice in the matter,” says a PD who earns £53k. Adds another freelance editor: “Many employers flout the law on holiday for freelancers.”

It seems that many workers clearly yearn for an era when unions were more powerful and rates and conditions were more regulated.

“Employers are becoming Victorian mill owners, squeezing workers for more and more and paying less while profits for share holders go up. The unions certainly played a part in controlling this. Sadly those days have long gone,” says one TV executive producer (who earns a generous £90k).

Rates “should be higher!” comments an archive producer on £34k. “We’re exploited because it’s a competitive industry that we all want to work in and the unions have no power.”

The welfare of workers is also brought up many times in the survey, and reflect many of the concerns raised by broadcasting union BECTU in its current “Say No To TV Exploitation” campaign that has flagged up the dangers posed to many crews by long working hours in particular.

A freelance costume maker working in film production, who earns £15k a year, raises concerns about the welfare of off-set production crews such as those in set and costume workshops. “We work long daily hours, regularly 12 hours and more and I have heard from fellow employees who have experienced jobs where you do not get a day off for weeks at a time. This is especially dangerous for workshop crew operating machinery. And overtime? What overtime?!” Others flag up concerns about driving to and from jobs after long hours working on set.

A divided workforce
As in previous years, the survey reveals an industry that is increasingly polarised. Senior executives and top talent appear to be doing very well compared to the middle and lower ranks of workers.

“The earning power has moved to the execs, along with creative control,” complains one producer/director on £32k a year.“ Salaries are completely not commensurate with the amount of work that is put in to this industry. Far too much of it goes to execs and other people and has not filtered down at all,” adds another producer/director on £26k. A camera operator on  £42k argues that the difference in pay between management and ‘people actually doing the work’, indicates that “the olden days of them and us from management and working people is coming back.”

The complaints are particularly strong from skilled jobs such as camera operators and post production, with many feeling that their hard earned technical skills are undervalued.

“Personally I think the post industry severely under pays you,” says one colourist on £31k. “Nowhere else would you be so badly paid for such a highly skilled job. The distribution of wealth in the industry is top heavy. It’s extremely low at the bottom and extremely high at the top but there is a vast expanse in the middle where people are not paid close to what the equivalent job in a different industry would get.”

This means that the industry could struggle to attract the best technical talent. An engineer on £40k points out pay for technical staff such as electricians, vision engineers and lighting console operators has not changed for years. “Far fewer of the best brains want to come and work in broadcast production now,” he argues.

Exploited youth

Getting any job in the current climate is difficult for young graduates – but it is particularly so in a coveted industry like broadcasting and production. For those who do manage to break in, it’s clearly hard to earn enough money at the junior level to pay the bills. Says one researcher on £20k: “I find it difficult to get a decent wage as a researcher or similar junior member of staff. I also frequently have to work much longer hours than I am contracted for, technically working for free after hours.”

A production assistant on £17k adds: “It has been so difficult for me to break into this industry due to the poor level of pay. To start out generally all experience has to be gained working for free. But 
I need to be able to make some money to pay my bills. How can anyone support themselves long-term?”
Others raise familiar concerns that this means the industry is “stuffed by white, middle class people from London or the South East” who can afford to bear the cost of working for free when they start.

Mind the pay gap
Once again, Televisual’s salary survey also provides clear evidence of a pay gap between men and women. The average salary for the men responding to this survey is £51.7k, while it is £41.3k for women. “I think it is really important and long overdue that equal pay in TV is looked into,” says one female producer.

Many of the female respondents to the survey say that they believe men earn more in the industry. “Two out of the four in my department are men and they get paid substantially more than the women,” says one female dubbing mixer on £26k. A female head of development, on £60k, adds: “Some people are great at negotiating from the off; others take years to build the confidence 
(and knowledge) to negotiate fairly for themselves. And this disproportionately, though not exclusively, affects women.”Concludes another female AP on £31k: “It would be much better if there were standardised payment tiers. That way boys wouldn’t always get paid more than girls.”

Tim Dams

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