U.K. multichannel broadcaster investment in local content has topped the £1 billion mark for the first time, according to the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA).
COBA’s 2019 Content Report, prepared by Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates, indicates that multichannel broadcasters invested £1.1 billion ($1.4 billion) in U.K. production in 2017 across drama, entertainment and factual, news and children’s content. This is a 75-percent increase on 2011 and a faster rate of increase than investment by public-service broadcasters.
U.K. multichannel broadcasters spent £447 million ($575 million) on commissions from external producers (independent producers, non-qualifying independents and co-pros). The remainder was invested in in-house production for news, sport and animation.
COBA Chair Heather Jones said, “This report signals the coming of age of the multichannel TV industry. It is not just about the record levels of spend; it is also about creative competition and plurality, giving opportunities to a greater array of voices than ever before. Along with the thriving U.K. production sector, the biggest beneficiaries are U.K. viewers—who now have an even better and broader choice of excellent British TV shows to watch than ever before.”
There are threats to broadcasters’ ability to recoup on their investments, COBA warns, including proposed limitations on advertising for food and soft drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). “This could have a damaging impact on the U.K. TV sector as a whole, potentially compounding a recent voluntary ban on gambling advertising by betting firms. Any further restrictions should be proportionate and avoid impacting programs with negligible children’s audiences,” COBA says. The organization continues: “Ofcom’s current review of the “prominence” regime for public-service broadcasters has set out proposals that could potentially damage revenues for other services that are displaced as a result of awarding PSBs further advantages. This could have a negative impact in many genres, notably in investment in U.K. children’s programming. Any additional advantages for PSB services should only be introduced if there is clear evidence that audiences are having difficulties finding PSB services, if the negative impact on other services is proportionate, and should come with commensurate PSB obligations and ensure that genuine PSB content such as news is readily available within PSB players.” Brexit also presents a concern, COBA said, with “uncertainty and potential disruption to operations, including the need for U.K.-based cross border channels to relocate their broadcast licenses to remaining member states once the U.K. leaves the EU.”
Adam Minns, COBA’s executive director, commented, “A successful mixed ecology of different types of players is a particular strength of the U.K. television sector and this game-changing level of investment shows the benefits that come from that. But COBA members invest in U.K. programming without direct or indirect public support in the form of the license fee, EPG prominence or privileged access to spectrum. Multichannel investment is directly linked to channels’ ability to generate a commercial return, notably via advertising and subscription revenues, and undermining that ability will inevitably make it harder for broadcasters to invest in content.”