Streaming companies looking to UK for studios to meet demand

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Streaming companies looking to UK for studios to meet demand

LIVERPOOL, England – For two decades, the Littlewoods Building in Liverpool, a tall, low and cavernous space built in the 1930s to house a betting and mail-order company, was abandoned. No one wanted to pick up the crumbling Hulk, who was cruising on the outskirts of the city.

By Lynn Saunders. He is the driving force to make it the center of Liverpool’s first film and TV studio complex.

“It is a beast of a site,” said Ms Saunders, head of the Liverpool Film Office. This was too intimidating for most potential buyers. But amid a boom in TV and film production in the UK, Littlewoods Studios is now one of at least two dozen major plans to build or expand studio space across the UK.

Streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video are racing to meet insatiable demand for content and have chosen the UK as their location to create it, countering the malaise of overall investment in the country as it Voted to leave the European Union. According to the British Film Institute, in 2021, a record 5.6 billion pounds ($7.4 billion) was spent on film and high-end TV productions in the UK, almost 30 percent more than the previous high in 2019. More than 80 percent of that money was coming from American studios or other foreign productions.

Assured that there is no imminent end to the desire for binge-worthy shows and movies, studios, property developers and local authorities are racing to create more production space.

Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity company, and Hudson Pacific Properties, owner of Sunset Studios, which includes the former home of Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, have said they will invest £700 million for the first construction. do. Sunset Studio facility outside Los Angeles, just north of London. With 21 soundstages, it will be bigger than any of its Hollywood studios.

“There is such a huge need to produce content in markets that already have the infrastructure in place,” said Victor Coleman, president and chief executive officer of Hudson Pacific Properties. “And infrastructure is not necessarily just facilities but it’s also talent both in front of and behind the camera.”

The early “Star Wars” movies and the 10 years of Harry Potter films helped Britain get here. Filmmaking was attracted by veteran labor and visual effects companies and, critically, generous tax breaks. In 2013, incentives were extended to TV productions that cost more than £1 million per broadcast hour – so-called high-end TV series, such as “The Crown” and “Game of Thrones.” In recent years, productions were offered a 25 percent cash discount on qualifying expenses, such as visual effects made in the UK. In fiscal year 2020-21, tax exemptions for film, TV, video games, children’s television and animation exceeded £1.2 billion.

In Britain, film receives so much government attention that other creative industries, such as live theatre, can only dream.

“I don’t want to contemplate the loss of tax incentives,” said Ben Roberts, chief executive of the British Film Institute. Without it, Britain would immediately become uncompetitive, he said.

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Most of the increase in production in the UK comes from big budget TV shows, which are a major part of streaming channels. According to the British Film Institute, last year, 211 high-end TV productions, such as “Ted Lasso” and “Good Omens”, were filmed in the UK and less than half of them were produced by British companies alone. Compared to 2019, the amount spent increased by 85 percent to £4.1 billion.

Liverpool already claims to be the second most filmed city in the UK after London. For a few weeks in late 2020, its streets became Gotham City for “The Batman” and shows were shot over the years, including “Peaky Blinders.” The local authority is producing more TV shows by building four smaller studios.

Property developers announced plans for Littlewoods Studio in early 2018, but grand ambitions were put off by a fire in the building a few months later. Not wanting to miss out on growing demand, Ms Saunders convinced City Council to spend £3 million on building two soundstages around the site. They opened in October.

And then at the end of last year, £8 million in public funding was approved for remedial work on the Littlewoods building to create two more sound stages. Ms. Saunders hopes adding studios will make production in the city last longer – taking over hotel rooms, ordering from restaurants and employing locals. The Film Office has also started investing in production – amounting to £2 million across six TV shows so far.

The UK is already the largest production location for Netflix outside of the United States and Canada. While much has been filmed on location — such as “Bridgeton,” in Bath, and “Sex Education,” in Wales — Netflix commits to a permanent home in 2019 at Pinewood Group’s Shepperton Studios in Surrey, south-west of London Where “Dr. Strangelove” and “Oliver!” were built decades ago. Shepperton is expanding now, aiming to double its number of soundstages to 31 by 2023, and Netflix plans to capture more of that new space.

But the landing of American streamers on British shores has also brought its challenges. The industry is replete with stories of production crews leaving jobs for high paying gigs, lengthy waits for studios, and production costs that outweigh inflation.

Anna Mallett, Netflix’s vice president of physical production for the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, opposes the idea that Streamer’s rampant expansion is squeezing others out of studio space.

“I think that’s enough for everyone,” she said. “More than six million square feet of production space is coming to market in the next few years.”

Amazon is planning to move in next door. Last month, Prime Video agreed to lease 450,000 square feet of new development at Shepperton Studios, including nine soundstages. The streaming service sent a wave of excitement through Britain last year when it announced that it would be filming the second season of its “Lord of the Rings” series, “The Rings of Power,” in the country. This would move from New Zealand to the dismay of officials in that country, who have offered franchises hundreds of millions of dollars in financial incentives for more than two decades.

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By 2023, Warner Bros. is expected to be underway with its plans to add 50 percent more soundstage space to its studios northwest of London.

Warner Bros. was the first major Hollywood studio to establish a permanent location in the UK when it purchased Leavesden Studios, where it produced Harry Potter, in 2010.

“It was a huge leap forward for the Warners to make this investment,” said Emily Stillman, head of studio operations at Leavesden. After years of expanding the pieces, the new development, if it receives planning approval, will be the studio’s largest investment on the site.

Away from the more well-known studios around London, the hope is that the production boom could bring job opportunities and investment in areas overlooked in the UK. The new studio is being built out of an old industrial location in Dagenham in east London, which was once synonymous with the manufacture of Ford cars in the 20th century. In Bristol, the local authority is investing £12 million to add three more soundstages to Bottle Yard Studios in a financially struggling area, said Laura Avils, head of the Bristol Film Office.

“It’s been a struggle” to revive the sector, he said, “and there are a lot of young people who could be third-generation unemployed who have struggled to find work.” The expansion is expected to attract other businesses to the region.

There is a risk that all this demand for studio space could turn out to be a blessing and a curse. Despite the skilled workforce in the field, there are genuine concerns about whether the UK can train enough production crews and related roles to fill this all-new studio space.

Industry has committed millions of pounds for rapid training programmes. Industry leaders hope to bring more people into the field and break the stereotype that work – much of it independent – is particularly well-connected and well-connected. This month, Prime Video said it would spend £10 million To increase diversity in the industry in the UK and to fund courses focusing on positions in Prime Video-commissioned productions.

And there are fears that smaller independent productions by British filmmakers, who cannot easily access credit to finance expansion, will be left behind in the boom. Last year just 16 percent of the money spent on high-end TV shows in the UK went to home productions only.

Mr Roberts, of the British Film Institute, said the level of foreign investment “runs the risk of challenging the indigenous, independent sector in terms of ability to retain talent, to crew up, to obtain finance, to rent space, to use locations”. Is.” “We’re really careful not to feel like a squeeze too far.”

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