Finally, TV Production is Returning to Normal for European Broadcasters

For months, lockdown restrictions around the world put TV production on hold. But around Europe, broadcasters and production companies are reporting that the majority of paused production has now restarted, eased by a combination of industry guidelines and government support .

When lockdown restrictions were at their tightest, production studios had to improvise and find ways to put out new content. But these sorts of methods weren’t appropriate for all shows, and many had to stop filming altogether.

This lack of content had knock on effects for broadcasters, who struggled to fill their schedules. John McVay, head of the trade body Pact which represents the UK’s independent television production companies, warned last month that international subscription video on-demand services have been starving UK broadcasters of content by outbidding them for new shows.

But around Europe, production is once again spinning up, relieving this pressure on broadcasters.

Fremantle, a production studio owned by RTL which films shows across Europe, says the majority of production has now restarted. Jane Atkinson, SVP of global production at Fremantle, says that of the 191 shows that were put on hold in mid-March, 159 are now back in production or have been fully delivered. This includes both scripted and non-scripted shows, including Card Sharks, American Gods, Supermarket Sweep, Britain’s Got Talent, Anna, Neighbours and The Sister.

Likewise ITV Studios, owned by British broadcaster ITV, says most of the shows it put on hold have now started back up. The studio says over 80 percent of the projects which were paused during lockdown have now either been completed or resumed filming. This includes some of ITV’s most popular shows, including soap operas Emmerdale and Coronation Street.

And French production company Newen, owned by TF1, says it was able to resume the majority of its production as early as May, though some shows are still on hold.

Lockdowns, Guidelines and Financial Support

Being able to return to work has partly depended on the type of content they produce. Freemantle’s Atkinson said that dating shows took longer to restart, since dating shows by definition put strangers in close physical contact. But Fremantle’s dating shows have now restarted, albeit with new socially distancing and hygiene measures.

ITV faced the same problem. The broadcaster had to pause Love Island, one of its most popular shows, during lockdown. But ITV has also now restarted this series, and today announced that two new versions have been commissioned for Spain and Nigeria.

But the rate at which studios have restarted filming has also been dictated by the countries they operate in.

Obviously one key factor has been the easing of national bans on production. ITV Studios for example said that softer measures in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden allowed it to restart work in these countries relatively early. In Germany, while the government introduced national lockdown measures, TV and film production was not formally banned. Many production companies chose to pause filming anyway, but these softer rules allowed production companies to start up projects much sooner than elsewhere.

France meanwhile did shut down TV production for a period at the start of lockdown. But TV production was allowed to resume from May 11th, hence why TF1’s Newen was able to restart a lot of its projects relatively quickly.

Most markets followed shortly after, with the UK, Spain and Italy all allowing filming to restart later on in May.

Governments and industry trade groups have also cooperated on guidelines for how to safely restart production. In Germany, the government published guidelines on how to resume filming safely back in April, helping studios get back to work promptly. Meanwhile guidelines weren’t established in France, Italy and Spain until May, and until June in the UK, setting back production schedules.

And the availability of financial support from national governments has also been crucial. Production studios’ costs have gone up, as they’ve had to introduce new hygiene and safety measures. And it’s become harder for studios to get insurance to cover their work, since insurance firms have bumped up prices to reflect the risks posed by COVID-19.

So government schemes have been important, to make it financially viable for production to resume. In May, the French government launched a €100 million state-backed fund directly designed to help cover insurance for TV and film production. And the UK government followed suit with its recently announced £500 million scheme, which will similarly help cover insurance.

Other governments have created other schemes to help support production. Italy for example has increased its tax rebate for local producers to 40 percent. Spain has similarly increased its tax rebate rate for international TV and film shoots, and increased its cap on total rebates for production studios.

This funding is particularly important for smaller production companies, which don’t have deep enough pockets to cover these costs themselves. Sara Geater, Pact’s chair, described the UK government’s schemes as “critical and hugely appreciated” for independent production companies.

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