I had lunch with a very senior figure in PACT’s hierarchy last week, an old friend whom it is always a pleasure to see. We mulled over PACT’s fast-growing power and influence in the television industry and with government too. PACT’s influence expands in tandem with the growth of its ‘Super Indie’ members. This is despite PACT’s own operating budget now being a small fraction of what it was five years ago.
PACT has fewer members now than ever before, but they are richer, and include a genuine international reach and market domination. It made me realise that the UK independent production sector has quietly undergone a revolution within the last decade and the word ‘culture’ has been erased from all PACT’s descriptions of its own remit.
PACT has a clear vision that its job is to ensure its members can make money out of their intellectual property. Everything else that PACT does is secondary to that role. PACT’s members aren’t programme-makers, or writers, or even producers, they are primarily businesses, and they are on a roll.
Re-reading my Word Of Mouth pieces over the last few months, I realise that there are three firm themes.
Theme 1: The television production industry is changing fast, and you must change with it, or you may become isolated and abandoned as it moves on without you.
Theme 2: People at large are watching more filmed content, in more ways, than ever before. Single-platform broadcasting is in trouble, not television production. So as a programme-maker you should be fine in the longer-run.
Theme 3: We know that our industry is in transition, but your guess is as good as mine about what are going to be the most popular media, how they will be funded, and who will be controlling them, even within a five-year timescale.
Times of transition are financially tough. The old paymasters are struggling and the new ones have not become apparent yet. Below are some of the reasons that television freelancers are finding contracts harder to find with the production companies.
It’s not all doom and gloom in TV land. This week I head towards the light to unveil a land where everything is shiny, chirpy and consistently upbeat. Entertainment may not be where your heart is, but it’s definitely where the money is!
I have written a couple of articles here casting doubt on the financial and long-term future of UK broadcasters and their current structures. However, of course there is light at the end of the tunnel even for the big corporations, and it may be in the form of a glitter ball hanging over a shiny floor. Glossy Entertainment television is where much of the big money is headed, and it may be the saviour of big audiences and communal viewing.
Established factual indies are building-up their own Entertainment departments and broadcasters want to replicate the kind of audiences that Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor and Dancing On ice have commanded over the last few years. If you doubt that these formats can sell abroad, just ask multi-millionaires Simons Fuller and Simon Cowell, who have watched Pop Idol (X Factor by another name) become the dominant monster of the US television schedule.
Apparently TV wonderland has hit a blip. We keep hearing it, but are things really as bad as people keep saying? Freelancers and production companies are among those trying to work alongside the repercussions, but what if that’s no longer viable. They say those that can teach, but once you set your sights on new ventures is there really any turning back?
I can’t remember a time when freelancers weren’t being told by others that, “everyone says it’s quiet out there, but it’s supposed to pick up soon”. I’m hearing this a lot just now, and it seems so familiar that I thought I should find out whether the recession really is having an impact on freelance TV production work. So I contacted some of the other production talent heads of the larger indies to ask for their off-the-record opinions of what’s going on.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the economic climate is indeed stormy for commissions and the people who work on them. Productions are still going ahead, but they are fewer, and the competition for work is probably now tougher than I can remember since the last tangible recession in 1990-92. There are certainly many more channels and productions to work on than there were 18 years ago, but the size of the available workforce is also very much larger. People talked of giving up looking for work in the summer/autumn of 1991, and waiting for it all to get better. I hope that you won’t have to do the same.