In 2018 there were an estimated 245,000 jobs in TV, film, video, radio and photography (the classification grouping used by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for statistical purposes) in the UK, which represented a 16.5% increase in this sector between 2011 and 2018(DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates, June 2019). The value of the audiovisual services in this category was GB£ 7.7 billion in 2017 and the export of goods amounted to GB£ 650 million (DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates – Trade, August 2019).
The UK film production industry has been growing since the late 1990s assisted by National Lottery Funding and tax incentives. According to the British Film Institute (BFI), production spending on film and TV in the UK was GB£ 3.1 billion in 2018, the second highest figure. Some GB£ 1.9 billion of this related to films backed by major US films studios. A total of 202 films went into production that year (131 of which were domestic UK films).
The BFI supports and invests in UK film and filmmakers and promotes film through festivals and the National Film Theatre and Imax cinema in London. Although, on its own admission, its financial contribution is a relatively modest part of the overall film landscape, it is an important enabler and plays a major role in film education and culture, and in conservation of the film and TV heritage. BFI 2022 is the Institute’s strategic plan for 2018-2022 focussing on developing talent, learning and audiences. Among its strategy targets is the launch of a new model to provide quick funding for low-budget and debut films and piloting a GB£ 10 million Enterprise Fund to provide repayable working capital for innovative projects being developed by smaller companies. It will work with Screen Skills (formerly Creative Skillset) on a 10-year strategy to deliver an adequately funded skills framework. The BFI’s focus on building audiences includes growing the engagement of 16-30 year olds with British independent and specialised film.
The remit of the British Film Commission (BFC)is: to support the production of major international film and high-end TV in the UK; strengthen and promote the UK film and TV infrastructure; and liaise between government and the film and TV industry to secure film-friendly policies. The BFC provides a range of production support and advice services, e.g. sourcing studios, film locations, crew and talent, guidance on tax relief, regulation and permits etc. It is funded by DCMS, via the BFI, and by the Department for International Trade.
In 2019 the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee of the National Assembly of Wales published a report on its Inquiry into Film and Major Television Production in Wales which called on the Government to publish a strategy indicating how it proposed to build a sustainable Welsh screen industry. The report recommends how the Government should balance inward investment, indigenous growth and the provision of skills support. Among other things, the report makes recommendations on the need for Welsh Language TV Channel S4C to set out priorities for commissioning Welsh language films and on the need for government support for film festivals. The importance of Welsh Screen industry representation on international trade missions is also stressed.
Unlike the press where regulation appears weak, the operations of the public broadcasting sector in general and the BBC in particular is fairly strictly controlled. For some years, it has been evident that some government ministers and politicians have been keen to reduce the cost and size of the BBC, turning over some of the services it provides to commercial enterprises. A Green Paper, published in 2015 in advance of the renewal of the BBC’s Charter, set out options for changing the financing of the BBC and reforming the Licence Fee that provides the resources for the BBC to operate.
The Government had already cut the financing of the BBC World Service by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and required the BBC to absorb the c. GB£ 200 million cost in 2014 with no transfer of funds. It had also required the Corporation from June 2020 to take over from government the cost of providing free licence fees for people aged 75 years and over that had been introduced in 2001. With the prospect of having to meet this cost of cGB£ 745 million, representing around 20% of its budget, the BBC has announced that it will have to scrap free TV radio licenses by the year 2021-22.
This led to a lot of criticism of the BBC by some right-wing media. Many celebrities and the left-wing media have come to the defence of the BBC, pointing out that government ministers are behaving as though they own the Corporation, whereas it is owned by the public who pay the licence fee. The Government has denied that it is biased against the BBC. Nevertheless, voices within the newly elected Government have indicated that the compulsory licence fee will be axed and replaced by a subscription service when the BBC Charter comes up for renewal in 2027. Inevitably this would have a major impact on BBC operations. According to Government sources this would be in line with changing public viewing and listening habits, with young people in particular preferring Netflix and You Tube rather than traditional TV channels
In the audiovisual sector there are considerable anxieties about the impact of Brexit and the nature of any deal the Government negotiates with the EU. A report on The Impacts of leaving the EU on the UK’s screen sector by Oxera, prepared for The Screen Sector Task Force in 2017, identified the many risks of the UK’s exit. Particular concerns are losing market flexibility and productivity due to restriction on labour movement, and losing the ability to broadcast channels from the UK to the rest of the EU (a number of companies from the USA and elsewhere base themselves in the UK for this purpose and could find a new location). Losing access to finance from the EU is also a concern. The BFI indicated that the MEDIA programme (now a strand of Creative Europe) had invested GB£ 120.3 million up to 2018 and screen-related projects were recipients of GB£ 79.6 million from the European Regional Development Fund, while research and innovation funds such as Horizon 2020 had invested GB£ 71.5 million in the UK (see also chapter 2.9). The 2018 Government White Paper on the UK’s future relationship with the EU indicated that UK productions will continue to contribute to European audiovisual quotas. However, there are industry concerns that the UK Government may trade away this right in any trade deal with the USA or other countries, as reported by Andy McDonald in Television Business International.