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ThE MaStEr

Government pledges support for independent TV sector

Parents stripped of their child benefit relief, pensioners anxious they'll freeze or starve to death during winter, poorly equipped troops, longer waits for hospital treatment and indebted students. Such are the Blitz-style prospects for Austerity Britons, but at least they can be cheered by the news the UK's independent television producers are being shielded from the Government's budgetary scalpel.

The Coalition Government has promised to continue its support for the UK Indies Pavilion at MIPTV and MIPCOM from now through 2012. The announcement has been welcomed by Pact, the trade organisation for independent TV producers.

This is genuinely good news for one of the few sectors of the UK economy to reflect export growth. Figures released by Pact earlier this month show UK television exports bucking the persistent worldwide economic downturn, bounding ahead by 9 percent.

The annual UK Television Exports Survey, shows TV programme and format exports were worth £1.4 billion in 2009 and a strong presence at All You Can Buy international TV fests is vital for this to continue.

As large-scale manufacturing industries continue to die in the UK, their export revenues strangled by cheap foreign labour and subsidies, finance and service industries, tourism and entertainment are among those sectors on which the UK's economic recovery is dependent.

According to Pact, the Government support is "great news for boosting exports and enabling independent producers to invest in quality UK programming."

Funded by the Government's UK Trade and Investment Department and other screen agencies, the Indies Pavilion represents up to 30 UK independent production companies, providing meeting and screening facilities, market support and networking events. According to Pact, the MIPTV 2010 Pavilion alone generated more than £10 million worth of sales for 21 of the companies that attended.

Pact chief executive John McVay said: "We are very pleased that the government has recognized the value of the UK Indies Pavilion in helping independent production companies get to important markets such as MIP. Not only do they have the opportunity to sell their content at the market but also build up contacts that prove invaluable for co-productions and further sales moving forward.

"As the coalition works out its policies on exports, it is clear that trade bodies can deliver successful and cost-effective ways of getting companies to international markets."

UK made television is certainly popular abroad, not surprisingly exports to the US representing the biggest revenues at £485 million for 2009, up 3 percent, while Australia and New Zealand showed the biggest proportion of the 9 percent increase overall.

Region by region, the figures break down to show North America worth 41% of total UK television export revenues last year, Europe 29% and the rest of the world, 30%.

The annual UK Television Exports Survey highlights the popularity of UK programming abroad by collecting revenue figures relating to the international activity of UK television companies.

The largest source of TV income from UK exports was from sales of finished programming, which increased by 10% to £549 million, but format sales grew even faster, increasing 25% to £119 million. Revenue from UK formats produced abroad, programmes like Masterchef and Top Gear, were even more successful, increasing by a massive 124% to £41 million.

According to the survey, "creativity and innovation, particularly in developing new formats, were considered the major strengths of the UK television industry." That might be news to British TV viewers, who are not experiencing much innovation at all. For example, focusing on the presenters, rather than the wildlife, hardly represents a creative step forward in natural history programming, but that is the way it is going in the UK. It probably says more about the dearth of invention and creativity in other parts of the TV world.

Perhaps more significant is the English language. The survey cites language as a major benefit, both in terms of sales into the English speaking markets like the US, Australia and New Zealand, but also other territories. Certainly in Western European countries such as the Netherlands and Germany, English is spoken to such a high standard that English-language TV programming will provide no barrier to reaching audiences.

There are some brakes on UK TV exports. Content more suited to UK domestic tastes is less popular overseas, along with the low number of episodes per series and a shortage of returning seasons.

While television programme sales don't touch the sides of revenues from selling guns, fighter jets and tanks to other countries, they nevertheless represent an important export stream for the UK and help the domestic broadcasting industry employ tens of thousands of highly skilled and motivated people. Something to celebrate in these straitened times.

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