What will Brexit mean for the UK TV industry?

With the UK now voting to leave the EU, the future of one of Britain's most dynamic industries is uncertain says Ben Dowell

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The shock Brexit result will have massive ramifications – not least the fact that we may see less of beautiful French actress Clémence Poésy on TV.

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The actress who has starred opposite Stephen Dillane in the new series of The Tunnel on Sky Atlantic could now be lost to us having voted to leave the EU. Or at least that is what the show’s writer Ben Richards said before last night’s vote.

“I have read that co-productions would be a big casualty of Brexit. It’s something to do with the financing of it,’ Richards told RadioTimes.com.

“It would be much harder to get the co-operation between production companies in different countries. I’m not an expert but financially it would be more complicated.”

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Poésy said that she too would be “sad” if we in Britain left Europe. Je suis désolé, Clémence.

But are they right? How much will the Brexit vote really affect what we watch on TV?

Before the vote, 59% of producers, broadcasters and distributors said Brexit would be bad for their business, according to a survey conducted by Media Business Insight (MBI).

TV producers’ association Pact found that 85% of its members will vote for the UK to remain in the EU, with 15% wanting to leave.

One of the main reasons for this is that the export of British TV shows and formats to European broadcasters is worth around £376m a year, and many were worried that this would drop if the country voted to break ties with Brussels.

Sky Atlantic drama The Last Panthers, produced by Warp Films and French indie Haut et Court, received €1m (£770,000) in funding from the EU’s Media Desk. This fund has also provided hundreds of thousands of pounds for series including BBC4’s Hinterland, BBC1’s Shaun The Sheep and BBC2 documentary Inside Obama’s White House.

Much of HBO’s Game of Thrones is filmed in Northern Ireland, partly supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

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Michael Ryan, the chairman of the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA), the trade association representing the companies behind independent film and TV the world over, has described the Brexit vote as “likely to be devastating” for the creative sector.

“The decision to exit the European Union is a major blow to the UK film and TV industry,” he said in a statement. “Producing films and television programs is a very expensive and very risky business and certainty about the rules affecting the business is a must.

“This decision has just blown up our foundation,” Ryan added. “As of today, we no longer know how our relationships with co-producers, financiers and distributors will work, whether new taxes will be dropped on our activities in the rest of Europe, or how production financing is going to be raised without any input from European funding agencies.”

Harvey Weinstein, meanwhile, one of the most powerful studio execs in Hollywood, has told Deadline that Brexit is a “disaster” for the UK.

“I think there will be discrimination now against some of the product and what it means to be European product. A lot of TV stations in Europe are under quotas. When you do War And Peace, that was accepted as European. It could be very costly in the movie and TV industry in terms of content branding. European branding is very important. It’s a big deal for these young British filmmakers.”

Harvey Weinstein

Before the vote, culture minister Ed Vaizey also said that “leaving the EU would be an utter disaster” for the creative industries, even though his boss, culture secretary John Whittingdale, was one of the leading Vote Leave advocates.

With the vote now decided, the jitters across the TV industry are clearly being felt.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has declined to comment on the impact of the vote. Channel 4 had nothing to say and ITV did not respond to inquiries.

However, ITV chief executive Adam Crozier sought to reassure his own staff about the impact of the vote, after shares in the organisation fell by almost 20% following the result.

He wrote to them reassuring them that the company’s “strategy remains unchanged” despite the vote and said that the company will continue to “create and broadcast great programmes and sell them around the world”.

Sky’s share price is also down.

Jitters over the EU referendum also affected the advertising sector, with flat advertising revenue for the three months to 31 March. Firms holding back from buying advertising in the build-up to the referendum contributed to an advertising sales slump of 13% in April. 

So it’s little wonder that many independent TV producers reacted with a mixture of anger and sadness to the news of the referendum decision.

Kenton Allen, chief executive of Big Talk, the company behind TV shows such as Rev, Raised by Wolves and Friday Night Dinner was in a sombre mood.

Jimmy Mulville, the boss of leading independent producers Hat Trick, which makes Have I Got News For You and dramas like The Secret and Doctor Thorne, was also typical in expressing his despair:

 But at least Mulville detected a crumb of comfort in the Referendum result.

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I’m sure Ian Hislop would have plenty of questions for him.