The British Film and Television Industries - Communications Committee Contents

The British film and television industries—decline or opportunity?


1.  The creative industries are playing a growing part in the British economy. This report examines two of the most important, film and television—although some of our proposals have implications for other industries like music and videogames. Our aim is to see what practical help we can suggest to enable these two industries to develop further and so benefit employment and overseas earnings as well as adding to our national reputation for excellent and innovative production.

2.  The total workforce of the British film and television industries is over 110,000[1]. It is a workforce which takes in actors, directors and producers, reporters and cameramen, animators and make up artists, staff in post-production studios and special effects, and the very many men and women working behind the scenes ranging from electricians and plasterers to sound technicians and researchers. In 2008, British films accounted for around one third of the British cinema box office and generated overseas earnings of over £1 billion. In television, BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation, has sales of over £1 billion and few doubt that this figure could be increased.

3.  Both industries have won for themselves high reputations. In the last twenty years there have been outstanding British films like Slumdog Millionaire, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love and The English Patient. British television has also produced a string of award-winning programmes and programme formats, highly popular both in the UK and abroad, such as Doctor Who, The Office, Prime Suspect, Planet Earth, Morse, and State of Play. While in the area of news, British television companies have provided impartial and fair reporting which is respected around the world.

4.  Nevertheless both industries now face challenges which have been increased by the global recession. Commercial television supported by advertising has been particularly hit. The problems of the economy have come on top of the structural change caused by the growth of the internet and its success in capturing an increasing share of advertising. One consequence has been that the amount of money devoted to British originated material has reduced and on present trends could reduce further.

5.  For many years past, the particular challenge in the film industry has been that the distribution and financing of films has been dominated by the big American studios. The result is that today there is fierce competition around the world to persuade producers to make their films in a particular country. Various financial incentives from tax relief to outright grants are offered to win this inward investment. Producers have no option but to take such incentives into account. If Britain wants to maintain its position as a venue for international production there is no alternative but to be competitive in what it can offer.

6.  A further threat to both industries is audio visual piracy. Films suffer from both illegal file sharing and camcorder crime when new films are recorded at a cinema by camcorder and then sold as DVDs. The result is that the value of the original work is damaged and the incentive for those who would benefit from subsequent cinema exhibition to invest in new films is reduced. Subscription television faces a similar problem with the illegal transmission of sport.

7.  Even more fundamental is the issue of training. Both film and television need skilled workforces. Skills are entirely crucial. They are crucial in bringing overseas producers to Britain to make their films. They are crucial for the making of high quality programmes. Ominously the evidence is that in too many parts of these industries quick economies are being made by cutting training programmes.

8.  In spite of these problems we have no doubt that both film and television are capable of achieving more. There are, however, substantial issues to be decided by the policy makers. This report is a contribution to that process.

9.  The membership of the Committee is set out in Appendix 1 and the Call for Evidence in Appendix 2. We received 56 written submissions and took oral evidence from 54 witnesses, who are listed in Appendix 3. During the course of the inquiry, we visited Berlin, to look at the ways in which the German authorities support the German film industries. We also visited the film and television studios at Pinewood and Leavesden. We should like to express our thanks to all who have assisted us in our work.

10.  Our Specialist Advisers for this inquiry were Professor Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster; and Dr Gerben Bakker, Departments of Economic History and Accounting, London School of Economics and Political Science. We have benefited greatly from their expertise.

1   The workforce of the film and video industry is over 30,000, and the workforce of the television industry is over 80,000 according to the ONS Annual Business Inquiry 2009. (SIC codes 59.11/3, 59.13/3, 60.2, 59.11/1, 59.12, 59.13/1, 59.14) Back

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