Support for the creative economy

Written evidence submitted by Make Me Laugh Research Project [SCE 039]

Dr Brett Mills and Dr Sarah Ralph

Make Me Laugh Research Project

School of Film, Television and Media Studies, University of East Anglia

1. Introduction

1.1 Make Me Laugh Research Project

1.1.a Make Me Laugh : Creativity in the British Television Comedy Industry is a three-year research project (January 2012 to December 2014) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and run by the School of Film, Television and Media Studies at the University of East Anglia , with Dr Brett Mills as the project’s Principal Investigator and Dr Sarah Ralph as the Research Associate .

1.1.b The project examines the nature of creativity within the British television comedy industry by interviewing writers, producers, directors, commissioners and other industry professionals, about their working practices, and the contexts that shape and form what they do.

1.1.c This submission to the CMS Committee’s inquiry draws extensively on the project’s findings so far, and both refers to and quotes material gathered via these interviews.

1.1.d The remainder of our submission is structured in the form of responses to only those specific issues the Committee wishes to address that converge with the substance of our material to date.

1.2 Research Context and Relevance: The Comedy Industry as a Case Study

1.2.a The British television comedy industry presents a particularly appropriate focal example through which creativity and the creative industries can be considered more broadly. Firstly, producing comedy is understood to be a ‘risky genre’ [1] requiring ‘craft skills’ [2] and it therefore offers a ripe site for the examination of creativity as a whole. Secondly, British definitions of public service broadcasting remain wedded to the production of comedy, and the BBC notes that its audience councils see comedy as able to ‘contribute to cultural excellence’. [3] Thirdly, the majority of workers in the comedy industry define themselves generically, [4] and therefore characterise their creativity precisely in terms of its comedy context. Fourthly, a significant part of television comedy production in the UK emanates from independent production companies, and it was this genre which was most successful in terms of independent production when, in the 1980s, the sector first experienced significant growth. [5] This preponderance of independent production, feeding both commercial and publicly-funded broadcasting, demonstrates the centrality of ‘creative autonomy’ [6] to the comedy sector, and fosters exploration of ‘the relationships between publicly-funded culture and the creative industries’. [7] The responses of comedy professionals contributing to the Make Me Laugh project thus make a significant contribution to on-going policy debates concerning creativity, the creative industries and creative personnel.

2. Barriers to Growth in the Creative Industries

2.1 Job Insecurity

2.1.a Our research interviews with television comedy workers at various stages of their career endorses the notion that the lack of security and irregularity of work-particularly for writers and junior employees – is a central concern and thus an obstacle to growth. Respondents stated having to juggle various jobs simultaneously, limiting the ability to develop their career. The majority of work is on a freelance contract, and therefore workers spend much time on managing their career rather than carrying out creative labour.

2.1.b Job insecurity was referred to by creative workers at all levels, and not just those trying to gain a foothold in the industry. While some acknowledged that insecurity can be a spur to creativity, our participants repeatedly referred to an inability to plan and therefore a focus on short-term goals. Some respondents acknowledged taking work that was of little interest to them and had little creativity, simply to fund other more creative and stimulating work

2.1.c Debates about the creative industries hinge upon the key notion that the workers who work within it, and the form and structure of the labour do, differ from that required in other industry sectors. Graham Murdock notes that moves in the cultural industries ‘toward outsourcing production, relying more on freelance labour, and assembling teams on a project-by-project basis’ unite to create an insecure and unpredictable environment for those with a career in the cultural industries. [8] For Mark Deuze, the employer-employee relationship within the media industry is built upon short-term, individualized, and conditional contracts meaning that companies have no sense of formal responsibility for providing media workers with permanent employment or supporting their career development. [9] Those at the start of their media career and in junior positions are particularly endangered by the increased competition for jobs and insecurity that this system creates. However, even those with more established careers may experience uncertainty. Short-term contracts mean that ‘[j]ob-seeking is relentless’ and there is a perpetual concern about gaps in employment, and thus in income. [10]

2.2 Accessing private finance

2.2.a While the Call for written submissions to this inquiry gave the example of difficulties in accessing private finance as a potential barrier to growth within the sector, the industry professionals we have interviewed do not perceive this to be a significant concern.

2.2.b However, it may be that this was not an area of concern simply because, as one producer noted, access to private finance was ‘not expected’ and so was not a context ever referred to in such work. This therefore does not mean that making access to private finance easier would not make the television industry more creative and/or successful.

2.2.b Interviewees acknowledge d that access to private finance would be of more value to newer, less-established companies rather than established ones, and could be a significant boost to innovative and original ideas.

2.3 Payment for Work

2.3.a Over time, discrepancies have arisen between the payments writers receive for work on terrestrial, digital and satellite broadcasters. It is increasingly the case that writers receive no residual payments for work for satellite channels, and instead are paid once only. This has resulted in a two-tier payment system for the same labour. Furthermore, the lack of repeat fees means workers cannot plan for the future, relying on those fees for their income. Finally, many respondents felt such a system was unfair as broadcasters often did make profits from repeats, and yet those profits were not shared with the creative personnel involved in production.

3. Taxation and the Growth of the Creative Economy

3.1 Tax Relief Benefits

3.1.a The announcement by the DCMS of a consultation on the introduction of tax reliefs for the creative sector-specifically high-end television-is viewed very positively by industry professionals. With the traditional model of production being fully-funded by a broadcaster at the point of commissioning now coming to an end, there are funding deficits that production companies need to fill. This will especially be felt by start-ups, small and medium-sized independent production companies where business margins are smaller. As broadcasters continue to cut their budgets and the funding gap becomes wider, government tax reliefs such as those proposed were considered by one production company Managing Director as having the capacity to become ‘more and more helpful’ to their growth.

3.1.b Writers acknowledged the value of working tax credit, which was seen as essential to freelance workers and reduced the problems encountered by workers with irregular employment patterns. The scheme was upheld as essential for supporting newer workers to the industry, and therefore highly beneficial to innovation and creativity.

3.2 (New) Enterprise Allowance Scheme

3.2.a The New Enterprise Allowance Scheme (NEA) launched by the government in October 2010 was a revival of the Enterprise Allowance Scheme (EAS) set up in the early 1980s which allowed the unemployed to set up a business while claiming benefits. The original initiative funded a number of high profile creative at the start of their careers such as artist Tracey Emin, Creation Records founder Alan McGee [11] and comedy writer Charlie Higson . [12]

3.2.b The NEA has encountered a number of problems however, such as the low percentage of women benefiting from the scheme (17%) particularly when compared with those who were helped under the original initiative (39%). [13] The reasons for this percentage decrease – a reduction in the period of support from one year to six months, the elimination of some additional remunerations such as reimbursement of all business-related travel expenses – are not, in essence, gender-specific but are impediments that are particularly unfavourable to women.

3. 3 Tax Reliefs and Definitions

3.3 .a While the official announcement of the DCMS consultation did not contain a definition of ‘high-end television’, the original Consultation Document from June 2012 states that ‘the relief is proposed to apply to drama productions and this would include comedy programmes’. [14] The inclusion of comedy within the DCMS definition was not only welcomed by those industry professionals we have spoken to, but absolutely presumed. This is because there is very little difference in the execution of comedy and drama’ as ‘the process, the development process, the filming processes are very similar’ [Comedy Producer/Executive Producer]. It would be ‘unfathomable’ therefore, for the DCMS definition of high-end television not to include scripted comedy.

3.3.b In much of the media coverage of the DCMS announcement the assumption was made that the term ‘high-end’ equated to television drama, [15] and this tendency was picked up on by our research participants. With the consultation currently ‘seeking views on how to define high-end television’ [16] a number of our participants desired the concretising of a definition that includes comedy programmes.

4. Ways to establish a strong skills base to support the creative economy, including the role of further and higher education in this

4.1.Further and Higher Education

4.1.a Interviewees felt that much creative work in education-such a creative writing, or drama courses-focuses on theatre, film and the novel, with television being marginalised. This therefore meant that those working in the television industry had to learn ‘on the job’ to a larger extent than those in other media.

4.1.b Interviewees therefore called for the education sector (and policy makers) to not only take media education seriously, but also to acknowledge within such curricula that a range of media work is available, without prioritising ‘traditional’ cultural forms such as cinema and theatre. It was felt that, considering the wealth of television work available, it would be good if medium-specific training was available, and students were encouraged to see the value in a range of work in the creative industries.

5 . "Clusters" and "Hubs" in the Creative Sector

5.1 The London-Centric Nature of the Industry

5.1.a Whilst the spread and scope of worldwide communications systems presents the opportunity of creative businesses being located anywhere in the UK, there is a ‘resilience of place’ within cultural production. Murdock argues that those who work freelance in project-based collaborations rely heavily on social capital as a means of securing introductions, opportunities and career progression. [17] For these interactions, cyber- or virtual exchanges are not an adequate replacement for ‘concerted socializing’. Our research demonstrates that this is the case at all levels of employment for workers within television comedy.

5.1.b Interviewees stated that independent production companies making scripted comedy and comedy entertainment need to be located in London in order to be in close proximity to the commissioning editors, writers and performers that specialise in this genre. It was felt that creating hubs elsewhere would be possible but workers would simply spend a lot of time on trains returning to London to meet with commissioning editors.

5.1.c Furthermore, the social nature of working in the industry was seen as vital, which requires workers living in close proximity. This was seen to be especially valuable for writers, who spend much of their time working alone, and who are given no defined space by broadcasters in which to work. A writers’ community is therefore an essential support network. This can be seen as an outcome of a failure of the industry to adequately support and mentor writers, especially those new to the industry.

5.1.d Significantly, writers took much satisfaction from their ‘self-imposed’ clusters, even though these required working in places not established for that purpose. For example, many writers acknowledged that they used the Royal Festival Hall as a work space and a community space. This can be seen as creative workers productively arranging their own communities. However, it can also be seen as a consequence of a failure by the industry to give adequate workspace to such workers; indeed, one writer acknowledged that, even when commissioned to write something no space was ever given in which to carry out that work, and therefore many creative workers are required to ‘squat’ in rooms where they could.

6 . The Support of Public Bodies such as the Creative Industries Council

6.1 Visibility and Awareness of Such Bodies

6.1.a Leadbeater and Oakley have noted that a key rationale behind public policy’s failure to keep up with the demands of the creative industries is that policy-making-at local and national level-is frequently split between ‘culture’ and ‘economic development’ departments which have different agendas. [18] The Creative Industries Council (CIC) , in which both the DCMS and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are working together to increase growth in the creative industries, has the potential to resolve this division. However, what emerges from our research is that creative industries workers are unaware of the CIC’s existence and, once informed, are sceptical about the necessity and function of such public bodies. None of our interviewees had heard of the CIC.

6.1.b In addition, there is perplexity over what the function of public bodies such as the CIC have and what ‘deficit’ or ‘gap’ they are attempting to fill. Bodies like the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television are perceived as having an easily identified function even if their actual power is perceived to be questionable.

6.1.c Respondents felt that public bodies that formally cover television often did so reluctantly, and never gave television as much support as other media. The British Film institute (whose very name elides its interest in television) and BAFTA were both seen as not ‘natural homes’ for those who work in television. Indeed, it was felt that there was no such home for those who work in television (though some acknowledged work by the Royal Television Society and the National Film and Television School) , and this was at odds to the public and vocal support afforded other creative industries.

6 .2 NESTA Mentor Scheme

6.2.a Business advice and finance is most often tailored to the needs of mainstream business, and while those within the creative industries recognise the need for such advice they would prefer that this was provided by peers that they can identify with and who have knowledge of the industry they work in . [19] Thus business mentoring schemes initiated by public bodies which aim to support the creative industries can offer particularized support and advice for creative companies that is not available elsewhere.

6.2.b The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), prior to its change in status from a non-executive government public body to a charitable trust in October 2010, ran a pilot mentoring scheme which one of the industry professionals part icipating in our research project took part in when they first founded their production company. The scheme-pairing up an established industry professional with a start-up in the same creative sector for a year-proved to be very successful in the case of our one of our participant’s production company when it was a fledgling start-up . The mentor provided a ‘sounding board’ and was an advice-giver from outside of the ‘little bubble’ of the company’s employees to talk business issues through with.

6.2.c The pilot scheme found a strong link between creative business mentoring and future business success (95% of businesses that took part in the pilot reported increased confidence, 85% had improved networks and contacts, and profitability was improved for 53% of companies). [20] The scheme has now been launched as the Creative Business Mentor Network (CBMN) with mentors and companies having already been matched for the 2012 scheme.

November 2012


[1] BBC, Annual Report and Accounts 2010/11, Part 2 . London: BBC, 2009, p. 2 7 .

[2] Michael Mulkay, On Humour: It s Nature and Its Place in Modern Society . Basil Blackwell: Oxford, 1988, p. 7.

[3] BBC, Annual Report and Accounts 2008/9, Part 1 . London: BBC, 2009, p. 20.

[4] Brett Mills, The Sitcom . Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2009, p. 51.

[5] Sylvia Harvey, ‘Channel Four Television: From Annan to Grade’, in Ed Buscombe, 2000 (ed.), British Television: A Reader . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 113.

[6] David Hesmondhalgh, The Cultural Industries . 2 nd Edition, London: Sage, 2007, p. 68.

[7] John Holden, ‘Publicly-funded culture and the creative industries’. London: Demos, 2007, p. 8.

[8] Graham Murdock, ‘Back to Work: Cultural Labor in Altered Times’, in Andrew Beck. (ed) Cultural Work: Understanding the Cultural Industries . London: Routledge, 2003, p. 31.

[9] Mark Deuze, Media Work . Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007, p. 3.

[10] David Hesmondhalgh and Sarah Baker, Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries . London: Routledge, 2011, p. 121.

[11] Louise Armitstead and Andrew Cave, ‘Tories pledge support for small firms’, The Telegraph , 6 March 2010. Accessed online 30 October 2012: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/7384969/Tories-pledge-support-for-small-firms.html

[12] ‘Funny Business: Interviews with Members of the British Terrestrial Television Comedy Industry’ (2005-6). Data from this research project, including Higson’s advocacy of the EAS, are published in Brett Mills, The Sitcom Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 2009.

[13] Erika Watson, ’New Enterprise Allowance: Not Working For Women’, Prowess2.0: Women in Business . Accessed 31 October 2012: http://www.prowess.org.uk/new-enterprise-allowance.htm.

[14] HM Treasury, Consultation on creative sector tax reliefs. Accessed 1 November 2012: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/consult_creative_sector_tax_reliefs_180612.pdf

[15] For examples see Balihar Khalsa , ‘DCMS Opens Tax Relief Consultation’. BroadcastNow. Accessed 1 November 2012: http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/news/indies/dcms-opens-tax-relief-consultation/5047245.article , and Adam Sherwin, ‘Tax deal for shoot-‘em-ups (as long as they’re ‘British’)’. The Independent , 4 October 2012.

[16] Consultation document, p. 17.

[17] Murdock, 2003, p. 26.

[18] Charles Leadbeater and Kate Oakley, ‘Why Cultural Entrepreneurs Matter’, The Independents: Britain’s New Cultural Entrepreneurs . London: Demos, 1999, p. 18.

[19] Leadbeater and Oakley, 1999, p. 18.

[20] NESTA press release regarding Creative Business Mentor Network. Accessed 29 October 2012: http://www.nesta.org.uk/press_releases/assets/features/industry_experts_line_up_to_mentor_uks_brightest_creative_businesses

Prepared 17th November 2012