Spend on UK film and high-end TV slid sharply to £4.23B ($5.3B) in the strike-hit 2023, according to the BFI’s latest annual stats.
The figure was 35% down on a record 2022, the BFI said, while floating the silver lining of £4.3B being nearly level with 2019’s pre-Covid spend. There were other green shoots such as a small rise in cinema admissions.
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It will come as little surprise that the figures fell so starkly given that the latter half of the year saw film and high-end TV production severely dented due to the writers and actors strikes across the pond.
Film production in the UK fell to £1.36B in 2023 spend, a 31% drop on 2022’s figure, while high-end TV was down by the larger 38% to £2.9B. As with the past few years, high-end TV made up the brunt of overall production spend at around two-thirds.
Of the total £1.36B spent on 207 film productions, spend by international players contributed the vast majority – just over £1B – while, concerningly for the local indie film sector, domestic UK film spend fell by 11% to just £150.2M.
Spend by streamers on movies in the UK also halved to £379M, although a quirk of the figures means that this number is counted towards high-end TV, not films.
BFI CEO Ben Roberts said the figures “reflect the different dynamics at play across our sector,” as he flagged strike disruption as having a big impact. While citing recent successes such as last year’s top-grossing UK indie film The Great Escaper, Rye Lane and Scrapper, he said “we cannot ignore that the statistics also highlight concerns for lower budget UK films, increasingly challenged in securing finance and visibility.”
UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer added: “While the American strikes mean it has been a challenging year for global film production, the future for British film remains bright as it continues to bring in billions of pounds to our economy.” She pointed out that five of the top-10 highest-grossing films at the UK box office were “made on British soil,” including Barbie, which was filmed in Hertfordshire.
Box office green shoots
There were green shoots in the box office figures, with cinema admissions rising by 5.5% to 123.6 million, helped along by a massive 57% month-on-month boost in August, which is when Barbie and Oppenheimer were released. This remains 30% behind pre-pandemic levels but is a boon for the deflated sector and came as the average UK ticket price rose to £7.92, an increase of 3% on 2022 and 11% up on 2019.
Barbie was comfortably the most-watched film in the UK, taking nearly £100M, followed by Oppenheimer, Wonka and The Super Mario Bros. Movie, all of which were almost neck and neck. The vast majority of the movies in the top 20 were American. Of the independent British movies, The Great Escaper was the only one to top £5M, ahead of What’s Love Got To Do With It? and Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light.
In high-end TV, which has boomed in recent years, international spend counted towards 72% of overall spend with £2.1B, while, notably, co-productions such as The Heist Before Christmas reached a record £38.9M.
The cameras rolled last year on the likes of Netflix’s The Diplomat, upcoming BBC drama Dope Girls and regulars such as Call the Midwife, but the sector was clearly hit heavily by the strikes, which has had a major impact on the struggling freelance workforce.
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