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Channel 5 has become the go-to broadcaster for small indies and ordered more original series than any of its rivals last year.

The annual Pact Census reveals that the proportion of Channel 5’s £77m commissioning spend going to producers with a turnover of less than £5m rocketed from 3% in 2018 to 20% in 2019. This put it ahead of the BBC (16%), Channel 4 (9%) and ITV (5%).

According to the 2020 Broadcast Indie Survey, Channel 5 suppliers in this category include Goowoo Media, which makes Do The Right Thing with Eamonn and Ruth and reality show Celebs on the Farm; Whitworth Media, producer of Chris Tarrant: Extreme Railway Journeys; and Bad Girls Behind Bars indie Flicker Productions.

Less than 10% of Channel 5’s budget went to the top-end super-indies in the £70m+ bracket – a far cry from ITV’s 49%, Channel 4’s 38% and the BBC’s 36%.

Pact chief executive John McVay said Channel 5 is “giving the big guys a run for their money” as Ben Frow shakes up commissioning with a blend of popular factual, royal docs and drama, including the hit All Creatures Great and Small.

New shows accounted for 55% of Channel 5’s production spend, more than three times 2018’s figure of 17%.

In its annual results, issued today, the Viacom CBS-owned broadcaster revealed that the number of original hours aired on the channel rose by around a third to hit 2,000 hours, including 80% of the primetime schedules.

Channel 5 said that its investment in original content was up 6% in 2019 as it sought to find new factual and drama shows after axing Big Brother.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s spend on original shows fell from 62% to 42%, reflecting a pivot towards the less risky option of returning series.

McVay said UK tariffs were challenging in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic hitting productions. A Pact poll in April revealed that producers had lost more than £250m in the first month of lockdown.

Pact estimated that more than 70% of shows have now resumed filming, with the cost of Covid compliance requiring financiers to add much as 20% to existing budgets.

Overall indie international revenues swelled by 30% to reach £1.25bn in 2019 - the first time they have broken the £1bn barrier. McVay expected tape sales to escalate in 2020 as global broadcasters sought out shows to fill holes in their schedule created by the production slowdown.

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