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The Cost of Living Crisis & the TV Industry

TCC’s Managing Director, Laura, and Talent Manager, Aimée, attended an insightful event last week – ‘Cost of living crisis and the TV industry’ hosted by Percy & Warren and sponsored by Tysers, the TV and film insurance specialists.

It was an informative morning with EMMY and BAFTA-winning producers and organisations looking at the cost-of-living crisis and its impact on the TV industry, and gave a brilliant insight into what is happening out there. Despite testing times, there were also motivational insights and moving parts that suggest there is some hope!

Some key takeaways we got from the event were that some budgets are now dated, and tight, so people’s skills are being pushed to the limit to get projects through, and whilst production is expanding, the skills shortage is impacting the workflow considerably. However, this is not a time to hide away, demands change all the time and it’s up to us to make sure we stay tuned into the nuances of our clients and freelancers. People are still creating, and this is a time to look at how we are doing things, and what more can be done to continue to get you work and help fulfil our clients’ needs.

In the first discussion, we heard from Paul Evans, Freelance Research Officer at Bectu, Cynthia De La Rosa who is a Hair/ Wigs and Makeup Designer/ Educator and the founder of Levelling Up, and Shayna Waldman, Development and Production Executive at The ATS Team where they discussed the impact of the cost of living going up, and what effect it has been having on the TV landscape. Here are some points that were highlighted…

Budgets

  • Many budgets were set up to 2 years ago, before the ‘great resignation’ and before the cost of living went up, many of which included a 2% cap on the budget increase, when inflation has risen by 8%. 
  • Dated budgets have resulted in production companies being squeezed from either side (ie. broadcasters not budging, and then finding the talent to create this content within budget). 
  • Some companies have been trying to get more out of their internal staff, and the freelancers (ie. expecting more hybrid skillsets) to push projects through
  • Days have become longer on production, resulting in the day-to-day being more stressful and intensive in some TV environments, and therefore risking burnout.

Production is Expanding

  • Production capacity going through the roof, and studio space for scripted drama is expanding 
  • Due to the ‘perfect storm’ of the pandemic, the cost of living going up, and the skills shortage, some companies are struggling to find the talent to fulfil all the roles to make their projects happen. 
  • Many people also haven’t come back to the industry after the pandemic, some finding alternative careers, or deciding to move out of London and embark on something new, which has meant skilled people are now less available. 

Diversity in the Industry

  • The question was asked of whether the cost of living going up will negatively affect the diversity progress that has been made throughout the last couple of years. 
  • The consensus was yes it probably would, and this would be due to many factors. 
  • Lower-income individuals will be affected most by this cost of living increase
  • It will also affect those who are starting in the industry as people are less likely to have cars, and have higher rent to pay, and this means they won’t have the privilege of expanding their skillset or investing in the right equipment to work remotely, for example.

Parenthood

  • One of the panellists explained that childcare costs have gone up by 50% in the last few years, plus inflation, which makes it extremely hard for single parents, or people without a support network around them, to enable them to embark on careers or get back into work. 
  • One of the panellists also admitted to at one time thinking to herself ‘this is a career I’ll do until I have kids’.

Continuous Struggles of Covid

  • One of the panellists explained that production hasn’t changed when it comes to covid, whereas the government has. 
  • There was an example given of a freelancer contracting covid, being told to self-isolate for a week by their production, but as the government no longer advise this, this was then a week without pay. 
  • Up to 5% of budgets also had to be allocated to covid measures, and while we should effectively clawing this back now, unfortunately, due to inflation, it’s gotten swallowed up again.

Freelancer Rates

  • Paul Evans from BECTU that freelancers should be building unions between themselves to ensure that they are sticking to suitable rates, not accepting less than what their skillset deserves, and trying to keep rates standard throughout the industry. 
  • BECTU has managed to almost eradicate ‘buyout’ rates in the TV industry and make sure people have the most appropriate contracts drawn up to allow for overtime. 

We then heard from the Key Note speaker, Timi McEwen, a Digital Producer at Lime Pictures, who entered the industry shortly after recovering from homelessness with the help of the MAMA Youth Project. She gave an honest, inspiring and eloquent speech on how she has been motivated by her lived experience and the stories shared with her during this time to fuel her ambitions to develop a career within the factual and drama spaces, to create unorthodox stories and perspectives.

Timi’s talk gave a real insight from someone with first-hand experience of how the cost of living crisis is affecting people in the TV industry and delivered an emotive speech that jolted the audience into the reminder of how privilege really can impact careers, but how not to let disadvantages deter you from what your true ambition is. Having just completed a 1yr contract at Lime Pictures as a Digital Intern, now Digital Producer, Timi is no doubt one to watch with her creativity, awe-inspiring determination and professionalism.

The next panel were made up of Marc Lorber the Senior Vice President, International TV Co-productions and Acquisitions for Lionsgate, Siân Price, the Creative Director for Yeti, and Steve Wynne the CEO for Strawberry Blond and Shan Eisenberg the CCO of Netgem UK. Here are some highlighted points from their discussion…

What’s going on for the Production Companies

  • Production companies have had to deal with the increase in costs of electricity, rent, and fuel, and dealing with budgets that were set 18 months to 2 years ago. 
  • As many freelancer rates have gone up, and the broadcasters aren’t willing to revisit the budgets that are now out of date, the production companies are feeling the impact of it all. 
  • Many production companies are feeling the pinch, and have been making some content that either doesn’t make a profit or they’ve been losing profit due to budgets not budging. 
  • The overall feeling was that they are riding out this wave, with Mark Lober explaining that every year there is a different battle to fight, whether that’s terrorism or a recession, and they are doing their best to adjust and evolve to come out of the other side still able to create exciting content.

Internal Help

  • Some production companies are trying to make it more affordable for their staff, for example, allowing lots of remote work, and not opening until 10.30 am so they can miss the peak travel times if they do travel in. 

Skills Shortage

  • Steve Wynne explained they are having a wealth of applicants for jobs but they just aren’t skilled enough
  • Strawberry Blond, for example, has been exploring taking people on without the experience but with strong transferable skills, and nurturing and training them in their company. 
  • Sian Price explained to tackle the skills shortage, where the budget allows, they are offering paid work experience and trying to create more entry-level roles.

Whilst many factors are affecting the TV industry, what was clear is that the passion is still there to create content, and people are doing what they can to ensure it stays a booming industry for all.

We understand the TV industry might be suffering and adjusting to try and makes things work the best way they can, but we are pleased to say at TCC we are continuously seeing new productions come to us. Branded content and social campaigns seem to be on the rise for creating content, and we are always looking for new clients to work with or trying to strengthen relationships with existing clients to help get our freelancers to work.

To tackle the skills shortage, we are so excited to introduce a programme here called TCC Rising Talent, where we will be taking on 10 graduates from various universities or training programmes to join the books, and help nurture and guide them into their chosen field in the freelancer world. We will be partnering them up with mentors, offering them workshops, and trying to get them relevant paid work so they can get a kickstart into media. If this is successful, we will be doing this year on year, and hope that from this we can help create some fantastic opportunities, expand skillsets and help build careers.

If you want to share any of your ‘on-the-ground’ experiences, we’d love to hear from you! We’re always wanting to learn more about what the landscape is doing out there, so we can prepare and tackle it with the right knowledge.

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