The UK TV production sector grew rapidly in 2022 to a near-£4B ($5B) high, but Pact boss John McVay has forecast a “tough” full-year 2023 and “shaky” 2024.
The producer trade body’s annual Pact Census, which covered the 2022 calendar year, found indie revenues to have risen by 21% – comfortably besting the previous record of £3.3B in 2019. International TV revenue skyrocketed by 70% to £1.6B and spend from the streamers rose by a whopping 133% to £700M – both smashing previous records.
Unveiled yesterday during a press briefing, the heady numbers will come as little surprise, given that 2021 was hit by Covid-19 and 2022 saw a rush back into production. Figures from across the UK TV sector regularly reported virtually full employment levels in 2022, and there were big increases in commissioning by both local networks and U.S. giants.
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McVay labeled 2022 a “boom year,” adding: “Clearly the UK is a place where large sums of money are invested in content and that is good news for everyone in the supply chain and the value chain.”
He praised the streamers for “shooting [investment] up by a mile” and said this will “hopefully” return once the dual U.S. strikes are over, with 2022 being the first year in which the SVoDs spent more than non-UK linear channels on UK content. Big UK streamer hits to have landed across the year included Netflix’s Heartstopper and the fifth season of The Crown, while new players such as Disney+ and Apple TV+ entered the UK commissioning market in earnest.
Notably, international sales of finished programs fell to its lowest level in a decade (£190M), demonstrating that global players are “buying new things not just catalog,” according to McVay.
A “tough” 2023
Unsurprisingly, McVay forecast the numbers will drop quite significantly following a “tough” full-year 2023, which has included a cost-of-living crisis, subsequent commissioning slowdown and the WGA/SAG strikes. He said 2024 could be “a bit shaky as well” and hopes the UK production sector will return to a “more normal trajectory” of roughly 5% growth per year by 2025.
“We’re talking to producers who are having to restructure, lay off staff and make changes to work patterns but we’ve been here before – it’s part of a deep industry cycle where we experience inflation and ad recessions.”
Given the vastly contrasting nature of the industry over the past few years, McVay said Pact has been having conversations with local broadcasters about “not getting carried away and over-commissioning when times are good” – an accustion that has been levelled at Channel 4 in particular over the past few months.
He acknowledged Channel 4’s structure leaves it worse placed than rivals to weather economic storms but criticized programs boss Ian Katz for recently saying the network has been “more honest” than rivals about the commissioning slowdown.
“I have said to [Channel 4 CEO] Alex Mahon and Ian Katz that they have been honest but I wish they had been honest earlier because they were gambling on an ad recovery over the summer that never happened,” said McVay. “If they’d come earlier and said ‘Guys it’s going to be a tough year’ it would have helped indies and freelancers.”
Notably, the 2022 Census showed Channel 4 had commissioned more than half (52%) of its shows from the largest indies (plus-£70M turnover). Given that the botched privatisation attempt was “predicated on Channel 4 being the channel for small companies,” McVay said he would “like to see this figure change.” Paramount UK network Channel 5 commissioned just 10% from the largest producers, while the BBC and ITV were level on 46% – only just behind Channel 4.
The number of UK producers in the top turnover bracket grew from 9% to 12% across 2022, while, on the opposite end of the scale, those in the lowest revenue group fell from 33% to 25%. McVay, howver, acknowledged profits likely didn’t rise in line with turnover during the year due to “inflationary pressure,” although Pact doesn’t collect profit data.
New IP spree
Elsewhere, the BBC headed out on a new IP spree in 2022, according to the Census. Coming a few months prior to the announcement that the corporation would be cutting 1,000 hours worth of shows per year for the forseeable future, the BBC in 2022 commissioned 41% new programs and 59% returning series, with this figure falling to 27% new shows for ITV and 21% for Channel 4. Channel 5 was again the big winner in this space, with almost half (48%) of the Ben Frow-managed network’s commissions being fresh.
In terms of genre, the proportion of overall spend on drama increased from 35% to 37%, or around £730M of the amount UK players spent on commissions, while factual entertainment was the big loser, dipping from 20% of overall spend to just 14%.
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