Opinion: Should there be a small indie quota?

Victoria Powell (Source: Indielab)

With the UK indie sector in jeopardy, Indielab CEO Victoria Powell raises a call to action to protect the sector and considers what needs to be done to put safeguards in place.

According to last week’s budget: “We have become Europe’s largest film and TV production centre, at the current rate of expansion, we will be second only to Hollywood globally by the end of 2025”. Quite a statement considering the current commissioning downturn felt by everyone in the TV sector this year.

Mr Hunt’s comments may refer to the studio production sector, but they don’t reflect the reality felt by many working in the independent TV sector in the UK right now, in particular small indies, of which there are several hundred.

In our role at Indielab we are constantly talking to indies, large and small, and there is a collective fear that the TV indie ecosystem as we know it, is now at risk of collapse. Some appear sanguine, explaining the situation as a kind of natural attrition, a need for market correction because there are ‘just too many indies.’ But should we potentially risk the sector just to see what happens? A benign neglect approach might be acceptable for a houseplant but we’re discussing a significant UK industry.

Small indie quota?

If we imagine the TV sector without small indies, we’ll be imagining an industry without grassroots, there will be fewer avenues for emerging talent, less diversity, less creativity, less great TV- ultimately leading to less commercial success, both domestically and internationally.

It only takes a little neglect to end something, it’s so much harder to start it. What we need are strategies to put some guardrails around the small indie sector, to protect what has taken decades to build. I have been speaking to indie founders and executives and advisors across the industry about what could be done to try to prevent an unmanaged loss of the talent in our incredible sector.

For example, is it time for a small indie quota at the PSBs? Would it be unreasonable to have PSB guidelines to protect small indies in UK co-productions? Could the tax credits for HETV be extended to productions with budgets of less than £1m per hour, or should that per hour limit (and the focus exclusively on High-End) be removed altogether to bring it into line with tax credits in the other screen sectors?

Having worked in Westminster as an advisor for the shadow Department for Culture Media and Sport, I know that political and policy change often happens painfully slowly.  But not always. When government and regulators see a sector in trouble things can be done. Indielab is not a trade body and the sector already has a prominent trade body in PACT. What we are keen to do is to gauge the strength and resilience, or lack of, of our small indie sector right now and hear the views of indies at the coalface as to what measures can be put in place to not only protect them, but also help them adapt and flourish, as our sector evolves to meet the challenges of the future.

The Indie Voice survey aims to do just this. If you are an independent production company and wish to have your voice heard; if you have a view about what more could be done to support and protect our small indie community for the benefit of the wider creative industry in the UK; and if you appreciate and want to protect UK content, then please do respond. Response data will be reported on anonymously and findings will be published within the month.

Click HERE to participate in Indielab’s Indie Voice Survey.

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