Indie revenues fell for the first time in three years in 2020, with the pandemic forcing a 14% drop as PSBs stripped commissioning spend to a ten-year low, took longer to respond to pitches and cancelled shows.
Pact’s annual Census shows that after three years of successive growth, combined UK indie revenues fell from £3.3bn in 2019 to £2.9bn.
Domestic TV revenues hit a 10-year low of £1.7bn – a 13% drop – with UK commissioning spend down 17% to £1.4bn.
PSBs accounted for £1.2bn of this – again, the lowest level in 10 years - as advertising pressures and filming restrictions put paid to ambitious and high-risk shows in favour of quick-turnaround studio formats, often with guests featuring over Zoom.
By contrast, Netflix and Amazon Prime’s spend with UK producers grew slightly, up 6% to £356m – leading 74% of companies to state that future growth would come from working with global SVoDs, far exceeding the 33% looking to UK broadcasters.
Pact published the figures as chief executive John McVay warned a House of Lords committee that the potential privatisation of Channel 4 could wipe £80-£100m from the value of the indie sector in the first year of a sale, rising to £3.7bn in a decade.
New commissions accounted for just 30% of spend in 2020, down from 41% in 2019, with the BBC’s spend on new shows down from 42% to 25%. Channel 5 leads the way with 40% of its spend going on new titles.
In terms of genre, broadcasters leant on entertainment and factual entertainment to fill schedules in lockdown and beyond, from Channel 4's The Steph Show and Grayson's Art Club to ITV's The Masked Singer.
Drama was the biggest casualty of cuts, accounting for 29% of spend, down from 40% in 2019, but entertainment received 33% of spend (up from 27%) and fact ent rose from 16% to 21% of the pie. Factual remained stable on 10%.
Broadcasters upped their spend outside London to 45% (from 43%), with Wales and south-west England now accounting for more than half of out-of-London commissioning spend.
The report also points to a small shifting of the balance in terms of indie size. While spend with the biggest indies – those with revenues of £70m+ - fell from 38% to 34%, those with less than £1m turnover doubled their share to 8%.
More than half of UK indies surveyed – 55% - furloughed staff and 37% applied for government loans offered in lockdown, while 57% said the pandemic had hit their ability to make further business investments in areas such as people and R&D, which could have a knock-on effect to their future pipelines.
A quarter said they had a show cancelled between April 2020 and March 2021.
74% of companies said that future growth would come from working with global SVoDs, while just 33% expect it from UK broadcaster original commissions.
In a separate study, Pact found that UK broadcaster response times to pitches increased by half a week in the pandemic, as they faced an 18% rise in submissions.
On average, they took 5.7 weeks, up from 5.2 in 2019, with the BBC the worst culprit on 7.4 weeks. In part this was due to receiving the most pitches - 763, of which 89 were commissioned, 12% of all those submitted.
Channel 4 took 5.9 weeks, Channel 5 took 5.4 weeks, ITV took 5 weeks and Sky was the quickest on 4.6 weeks.
C5 had the largest pitch-to-commission hit-rate, ordering 23% of submissions – 84 shows from 367 pitches.