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Streaming boom pushes big budget production spending in UK to record £6bn

The amount spent making Hollywood hits such as the latest Indiana Jones film and big-budget dramas including Star Wars TV spin-off Andor in the UK this year is on track to hit a record £6bn, thanks to a pandemic-fuelled spending spree by streaming giants and broadcasters battling for supremacy in the global TV wars.

The investment in making films and high-end TV shows costing at least £1m an episode in the UK this year will be more than double the £2.8bn in 2020 – when the production industry ground to a halt for months – and a staggering two-thirds more than the previous record set in pre-pandemic 2019.

The figures highlight the growing intensity of the streaming wars led by Netflix, Amazon and more recently Disney that has in turn forced broadcasters such as Sky, the BBC and ITV to invest significantly more in big-budget content.

Spending on high-end TV shows hit £3.3bn in the year to the end of September, according to the latest figures from the British Film Institute, well in excess of the £1.4bn so far committed to making feature films in the UK. In the previous two years, spending on UK-made films and prestige TV shows has been at almost identical levels.

“We are experiencing a boom. We have seen incredible growth in the first three quarters this year,” said Ben Roberts, the chief executive of the BFI. “The streamers have been taking huge amounts of studio space in the UK. And the number of streamers making content here is expanding; for a long time it was only Netflix, which means we are seeing considerable growth in content demand.”

When the spending on productions in the final quarter is revealed in the new year the total is likely to hit, or even surpass, £6bn as streamers and broadcasters race to replenish their content libraries after the production pipeline delay last year.

While the UK has for many years proved extremely popular as a base – thanks to a combination of generous tax relief, a highly skilled workforce and talent base – the speed with which production was able to restart has given the country a competitive edge as a location of choice.

Initiatives include the £500m government-backed insurance scheme, which has so far enabled more than 1,000 productions with budgets worth £2.6bn to be made, plus the quick introduction of Covid health and safety protocols and quarantine exemptions for essential crew and talent to fly to the UK.

“I don’t think I would say we are ‘stealing’ productions from other countries,” said Roberts. “[Hollywood] studios and streamers have made the UK a major base. The UK is a natural and often first port of call for productions. There is no sign of us ‘nicking’ productions from elsewhere.”

However, in August Amazon made the surprise decision to move its $1bn-plus Lord of the Rings production to the UK, having filmed just one series in New Zealand. “That was an Amazon choice, not ours,” said Roberts.

The UK has been awash with almost 200 TV and film productions this year including Netflix’s The Witcher and The Sandman, Disney’s Andor, Aardman Animations’ Chicken Run 2, Wonka, Aquaman 2 and Dungeons & Dragons.

Last month, Netflix struck a deal to double the size of its base at Shepperton Studios, where it has made productions including the TV series Enola Holmes and the Charlize Theron film The Old Guard, and spent about $1bn this year making 60 TV shows and films in the UK.

Disney has a similar large-scale deal at Pinewood Studios, where Star Wars and Marvel films are based, and Apple has secured facilities in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

The streaming wars have sparked a response from traditional broadcasters with Sky, which is building a new large-scale complex at Elstree in Hertfordshire, with Comcast-owned stablemate Universal Studios, unveiling its biggest-ever slate of original content investing in 125 TV series and films this year. The Guardian

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