The UK’s high-end TV (HETV) and film industries have defied the Covid odds and are back, pulling off a record year in 2021 as they delivered a massive £5.6B ($7.6BN) of production spend.
Today’s annual statistics from the BFI showed a hefty turnaround after last year’s spend fell by 20%, in a year that included months of lockdown-induced production hiatus.
Film spend returned to an increase in 2021, rising by 13% to £1.5BN ($2BN), but it was the UK’s booming HETV sector that really reaped the rewards, skyrocketing by 155% to £4.1BN ($5.6BN), almost three times that of film, which crushed previous records.
The HETV growth is also double pre-pandemic levels. Shows such as Netflix’s Bridgerton series two, which defied several Covid shutdowns to push on, Call My Agent! and co-produced BBC dramas such as Chloe and The Girl Before brought in huge amounts. By the summer, reports of a “skills crisis” were abounding, with producers regularly reporting that the workforce was virtually at full capacity.
The majority of the HETV spend (£3.4BN) came from international spend or co-productions. The rapid growth was also helped by a sharp increase in single long-form productions made for the streamers, such as Netflix’s Pinocchio and Matilda, which count towards HETV rather than film. These high-end shows contributed £740M to the overall £4.1BN spend.
Film rose by a steadier 13% to £1.5BN following a difficult 2020.
The number of films that entered production rose by 75 to 209, including big hitters such as The Batman, Aquaman 2 (pictured) and Mission: Impossible 7.
The majority of the spend (82%) went towards international movies and, while investment rose by 46% on domestic UK indies, this still represents a small amount of the overall pie, reflecting a trend that has been taking place for some years.
BFI CEO Ben Roberts said the “groundwork for further growth is underway,” pointing to the raft of new studio spaces launching this year and production hotspots springing up across the UK.
“The record-breaking level of film and TV production in the UK revealed today is good news for our industry and the UK economy and demonstrates the speed of the sector’s recovery,” he added.
It was another challenging year at the UK box office, with pandemic-enforced closures affecting exhibitors across the first four months of 2021.
Once cinemas did re-open in May, however, the green shoots of recovery were visible. No Time To Die was the biggest factor, attracting 16.4 million admissions and grossing a hearty £96.6M.
In total, admissions across 2021 were 74 million, an increase of 68% on 2020’s challenging numbers. Box office reached £602M, a 144% rise on the previous 12 months. The final quarter of 2021 saw 38.8 million admissions, pointing to further recovery, particularly as the film slate continued to shift into 2022.
The top grossing UK indie film of the year was technically The French Dispatch, which undertook some of its production in the country, and grossed £4.1M.
That was followed by The Hitman’s Bodyguard (£3.8M) and Spencer (£2.8M). The market share for independent UK films fell to 5% in 2021, from 14% in 2020, continuing the ongoing trend of box office domination of tentpole pics on Brit shores.
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