A day before the RTS awards, it’s good to see the government heavily trailing tax breaks for British TV productions in this week’s budget. Obviously, this is not yet policy; we wait to see how this will pan out on Wednesday. Nonetheless, an article in the Guardian today illustrated the huge impact these – relatively inexpensive – tax breaks can have on the industry. They can, for example, be great for media jobs creation.
Downton Abbey was, of course, a huge success. While it did not win any RTS award last year, it swept the board at other ceremonies – including the Emmys and the Baftas – and was honoured in territories such as the USA and Spain. It is recognised as making a huge contribution to ITV’s return to profitability last year.
Despite this and other successes, tax breaks which are commonly available in other European countries have been denied to UK programme makers. As a result, the originators of Titanic – the new project from Downton Abbey’s creators – were forced to film outside the UK. While this may seem trivial in macro-economic terms, a successful drama series can net millions of dollars for its host government. Just as importantly, it can water the roots of a hugely successful – and internationally recognised – UK production industry that can boast some of the finest technicians in the world.
It is this technical excellence that has kept the production industry alive in the UK. Tax breaks for film productions have been reasonably generous, but TV has not enjoyed the same advantages until now – perhaps because TV has been seen as domestic product. The truth is that the UK’s TV output is now a hugely successful global export.
Without wishing to pre-empt the budget, we would argue that the same is true for the UK’s games industry. It deserves the same tax breaks: the games, TV production and film industries are great wealth creators for the UK. Without sufficient recognition from the government, these vital industries will simply migrate. Other governments around the world are eager to extract the talent the UK has developed. We should all be watching the budget with interest.