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Can the UK meet the increased demand for content?

Due to limited entertainment choices during lockdown, audiences increased their TV and film viewing across all platforms last year - most noticeably via streaming services. The good news is that as restrictions have lifted viewers have gone against predictions and research carried out by Ofcom found that more than half of adults (55%) said they would continue to watch the same amount of extra content on streaming services as they did during lockdown. The Disney + platform launched in the UK just as the country entered the first lock down. The platform quickly surpassed the number of subscribers held by Sky’s Now TV and Disney + is now seen as a true competitor to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. As these platforms compete for audiences and their viewing time, demand for new film and TV content will only increase, generating huge demand for worldwide studio space. The UK has long had struggles with space - especially in areas outside of London and despite a number of extensions and brand new developments planned across the country, some doubt that this will be enough.

“There is nowhere near enough space,” says Chris Berry, a director at Lambert Smith Hampton. “The requirements are equivalent to approximately four more Pinewoods. The level of demand for studio space and new content has changed but the supply chain has not reacted to the extent required. Even when all the current schemes out there are delivered, there still won’t be enough space. The UK risks losing out on billions of pounds of film and TV spending.”

007 Stage at Pinewood Studios (c) Bionicbiff

Before COVID struck, the UK’s TV and film industries were on a strong upward growth trajectory. The core UK film industry was estimated to contribute over £4.6 billion to UK GDP and support over 117,00 jobs, taking into account direct and indirect employment. (Source: Oxford Economics study for the BFI). According to the BFI’s statistical yearbook 2020, the spend on feature film and high-end television (HETV) production in the UK reached a record high of £3.62 billion in 2019 and in the same year, revenues from the TV sector were £3.3bn (up 11 per cent from 2018).

Despite the pandemic disrupting the industry, official data from the BFI found that 2020 film and HETV production spend in the UK was £2.84 billion. The large majority of this spend (£2.36 billion) was inward investment highlighting the UK’s reputation for creating content appealing to global buyers. Spend on UK domestic (independent) film production totalled £119.5 million, or approximately 9% of total spend.

Not surprisingly, the film and television industries are expected to play a key role in the UK's economic recovery from the pandemic but in turn how is the UK supporting these industries and where is the investment into domestic film and TV production?

According to HMRC, as of August 2020, there were 300 British films completed in 2019-20 which claimed Film tax relief (FTR). There were 110 British high-end television programmes completed in 2019-20 which claimed High-end Television (HETV) tax relief. In addition, there were 35 British animations completed in 2019-20 which claimed Animation tax relief (ATR).

As well as existing tax relief and a publicly funded programme of support – via the British FiIm Institute, in response to Covid the UK Government launched the Production Restart Scheme.

Talking to Variety, Pact CEO John McVay, said, “The Government’s Production Restart Scheme has played an important part in that recovery and it may take many years for the industry to build back to where it was prior to the pandemic.”

“In particular smaller, out of London companies have been detrimentally affected by the pandemic and with the future sale of Channel 4 on the cards, it’s those indies – who see Channel 4 as one of their primary buyers – who are going to suffer most,” he added.

With an increase in demand driven by audiences and streaming services, there is an opportunity for the UK to position itself as a global supplier of content - and specifically a leader in domestic production. However, with inward investment being the majority of money backing this demand, will UK productions have any UK content or will it simply be made using our creatives and infrastructure? Could it be that content produced here will no longer reflect the UK culture and population because it is written and funded by international companies?

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