Although the UK film policy review published Monday has been largely embraced by the local industry, ITV and Sky were put on the defensive when former culture secretary Lord Chris Smith commented that they “don’t put any support into British film really at all.” An ITV spokesman responded with a statement (see below) emphasizing ITV’s almost £1 billion annual investments in programming, the majority of which goes to original UK produced content. A Sky spokesperson pointed out that the group is investing more money in the UK’s creative economy than at any point in the company’s history. The policy review calls for all broadcasters to increase their investment in British film, but the sense is that companies are less than eager to see government get on the potentially slippery slope of mandating how they spend their pounds.
Lord Smith, the former culture secretary who oversaw the review, tells me the report should not have come as a surprise to the broadcasters. “We did have discussions with them at quite a high level prior to the report. They made their views clear and we made clear to them the direction our thinking was heading. They weren’t volunteering to rush into supporting film production, but they absolutely understood where we were coming from.” When I suggested that compelling broadcasters to invest in local film was reminiscent of the French model, he confirmed that he and his panel of experts looked carefully at the French industry as well as those of Spain and Australia among others. But, if UK broadcasters are concerned about taking on too much of a Gallic sheen, they shouldn’t be, Smith said.
In France, the local authority requires that a percentage of broadcasters’ revenues be put into local and European film – and those amounts can be significant. Lord Smith tells me that he does not expect current levels of investment in the UK to increase exponentially, nor all at once. Rather, he says he hopes investment grows gradually and via individual agreements with the broadcasters instead of strict government regulation – although he has suggested that should talks not go well, the government might “contemplate including the provision in the Communications bill.” Still, he hastens to add that “The French provisions are more draconian than we would ever contemplate here.” A government response to the review is expected in two months. ITV and Sky’s responses to the review are below:
“ITV invests almost £1 billion annually in programming on its channels, with the majority focussed on original UK produced content from a broad range of suppliers. This significant investment in the British production sector helps support the UK’s broader creative economy, with last night’s Golden Globes win for Downton Abbey just one example of the vital role ITV1 plays in creating new drama successes and giving exposure to new writing, acting and production talent. ITV’s channels also provide a valuable platform for a range of acquired film content from both UK and international producers.”
“A healthy UK film sector is good for our customers and good for Sky. That’s why we support efforts to increase investment in all UK content. Our contribution to UK film reflects the distinctive position we hold in UK broadcasting. Unlike those public service broadcasters who receive public money for the purposes of investing in UK content, Sky needs a clear and sustainable commercial rationale to do so. With that in mind, the fact that home-grown content is so appealing to our customers explains why we are investing more money in the UK’s creative economy than at any point in our history. It also explains why through our output deals we invest in the movies that matter most to our customers, which include many of those from the UK. We look forward to continuing our constructive discussions with government and UK content producers on how we can continue to make a valuable contribution.”