UK domestic TV production took £257m hit from Covid

"We are still in the recovery phase", John McVay, CEO of Pact. 

By Nia Daniels 8 Sep 2021

UK domestic TV production took £257m hit from Covid
Endeavour, via ITV

A new report from the UK trade body Pact (Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television) has shown the clear economic impact of the pandemic on the UK independent production sector, with domestic TV revenue declining by £257m. 

The Pact Census is an annual survey – conducted by Oliver and Ohlbaum since 2008 – that details the evolution of the television industry within the UK. 

UK TV production sector revenues were hit hard by the pandemic in 2020, resulting in a 14% decline from 2019 to £2.9 billion – the lowest figure since 2017.

International revenues remained above £1bn for the second year running – despite falling by 13% -driven by international primary commissions and sales of finished programmes.

Revenue generated by commissions from on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime grew year-on-year, although at a much smaller rate than recent years, by 6%, reaching £356m.

Domestic TV revenues were hit hardest, declining by £257 million (13%) as a result of a reduction in primary commissioning spend from the UK – the lowest since 2011.

However, secondary revenues increased to over £500 million as indies looked to make money by other means while productions were paused or even cancelled.

Earlier this year Pact conducted a separate piece of research from 3Vision, the Covid Long-Term Impact Study, which looked at the difficulties faced by UK independent production companies throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic, as well as assessing the recovery and reflecting on indies’ experience of working with UK and international commissioners. 

The findings show that whilst the sector is some way off from recovering to pre-pandemic levels, the introduction of various measures – including the Government Production Restart Scheme – meant many indies were able to survive through the crisis, adapting their businesses to make the most of the changed landscape. 

As a result of the pandemic, 65% of respondents were looking to diversify and develop other areas of their business, while 74% were looking to target more SVOD commissioners rather than just free- to-air channels. Smaller production companies expressed more intent in changing their content focus, budgets and plans. Although the survey still found that free-to-air TV is the biggest commissioner for UK productions representing 48% of commissions.

The number of pitches made by production companies surveyed increased year-on-year to all national UK broadcasters by 18%. The total number of commissions also increased, with the commissioning rate also rising from 13% in 2019/20 to 16% in 2020/21.
Production companies in London have been the main beneficiaries from the increased number of commissions year-on-year, most notably from Channel 5. In line with their Charter commitments and targets for national representation, the BBC commissioned the most from outside London, with Channel 4 also acquiring content particularly from the rest of England.
Overall response times to pitches were slower throughout the pandemic than in the preceding 12 months with the average time slipping from 5.2 to 5.7 weeks. The BBC took longer to respond to submissions (7.4 weeks on average) but does receive far more pitches than all other UK commissioners.
A quarter of all respondents had a show cancelled between April 2020 and March 2021, with the majority having one cancellation. Production companies based in the Nations were more likely to have a show cancelled than those based in England.

Commenting on the two pieces of research, Pact CEO John McVay said: “The industry has taken a big hit from the pandemic and we are still in the recovery phase. 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.”


Endeavour image via ITV. 

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