ITV has revealed that 38 of its in-house productions have restarted in recent weeks amid the easing of UK coronavirus lockdown restrictions, but CEO Carolyn McCall said drama will be the last genre to get back up to speed.
Giving evidence to the Parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, McCall said ITV Studios and its owned companies, such as Bodyguard producer World Productions, “haven’t quite found a way” to get back into drama production because of social distancing rules.
She said ITV currently has 1,500 workers on furlough, 500 of whom are freelancers. She added that the aim is to “bring as many people back from furlough as we possibly can,” but restarting shoots will be critical to this mission.
“We are not producing drama at the moment and the reason we can’t produce drama is we haven’t quite found a way yet,” McCall explained. “We announced something yesterday about working with government because the distancing rules are very difficult on dramas and so people who are working on dramas from our drama companies are people that will probably come off furlough last.”
UK broadcasters, including ITV and the BBC, published new guidelines on Tuesday around close contact on set. The safety protocols recommend that cast and crew breaking two-meter social distancing rules should be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.
Although McCall was cautious about drama shoots, this is not stopping preparations from going on behind the scenes. Deadline reported on Monday, for example, that World Productions is aiming to start filming again on its hit BBC drama Line Of Duty by August 24.
As well as social distancing rules, ITV acknowledged that insurance remains a sticking point and McCall said the company has been involved in weekly talks with ministers around finding a temporary solution. The industry’s proposed stopgap is an emergency government insurance fund, which will effectively underwrite the cost of productions closing in the event of a second lockdown.
Magnus Brooke, ITV’s director of policy and regulatory affairs, said talks with the Treasury have been productive, as previously revealed by Deadline. Questions around issues including state aid are being addressed and Brooke said it has not been a “straightforward” process.
“We’re getting there, I think we’re pretty close actually. You would need to talk to government about it specifically, but we’ve been working very closely with Pact [and] with government to find a short-term solution to enable us to get drama, in particular, back into production,” he said.
Separately, CEO McCall revealed that ITV has extended salary reductions for senior staff from the end of June to the end of October. Top executives, including McCall herself and chairman Peter Bazalgette, agreed to take a 20% pay cut in April at the height of the coronavirus crisis. They have also agreed to forgo their 2020 bonuses. “The salary reduction for management is at least until the end of October and we will review it then,” McCall said.