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International Insider: Indie Movie “Game-Changer”; Trip To Poland; Earnings Unveiled

Good afternoon Insiders, Max Goldbart here taking you through what has been a whirlwind of a week in international TV and film. Do not stop here — please do read on. And sign up here.

Indie Movie “Game-Changer”

£1B worth of sweeteners: It was a potentially “game-changing” week for a floundering British indie film sector with the unveiling of a 40% tax relief on movies with budgets less than £15M ($19M) — a relief that trade body Pact says it has been calling for in some form or another since 2017 and which answers the prayers of Culture, Media & Sport Committee boss Caroline Dinenage. Jeremy Hunt’s budget was perhaps the most listened-to and most celebrated for a decade by the creative industries after the UK Chancellor unveiled the relief with fanfare alongside 40% business rates relief for big studios and improved VFX relief. All in all, Hunt and the UK treasury said that the various sweeteners will be worth more than £1B in additional relief over the next five years — not to be sniffed at.

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“It’s extraordinary”: The biggest names in the UK biz were out in force to hail the 40% relief, which is seeking to give a shot in the arm to a once world-beating indie sector that birthed the likes of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Bend it Like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha. Stars including Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott and Barbara Broccoli did not hold back with the superlatives. “It’s extraordinary,” was the verdict of Rebecca O’Brien, boss of Loach’s indie, who spoke to Zac in the immediate aftermath of the budget. “It just gives me confidence and means if I can raise the money more easily, I can spend more time helping the production and making a good film rather than spending all my time on Zoom trying to sort out the money.” O’Brien’s summation pointed to the crux of the matter — there are plenty who want to make movies here, but simply haven’t been able to make bottom lines work, and have instead been relocating filming to other countries or not getting projects off the ground at all. Rewind two weeks, we reported on the heads of BBC Film and Film4’s notion that the sector is at risk of “losing a huge number of talented people from the industry” if things don’t improve. They had pointed out that their budgets have remained the same for a decade, while costs have risen steeply, although Film4 could be set for one of its best Oscars yet with Poor Things and Zone of Interest in the mix.

Bottom lines important, but questions remain: Those all-important bottom lines were the focus of my interview with UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, as I headed down to the National Theatre where she was taking the opportunity to spotlight a £26M funding boost for the institution. Frazer told me that the budget sweeteners will bring balance to a sector that has in recent years become overly reliant on inward investment and big-budget fare ahead of those cheaper indie movies. The lucrative UK film and high-end TV tax credit was introduced in 2013 and has no doubt helped make the sector what it is today. It has vastly been utilized by bigger beasts and has sometimes led to accusations that Britain has become something of a ‘production services’ industry for the big American giants, although one could argue the toss over whether this is a good thing or not. Frazer has come in for criticism recently from broadcasting union Bectu for insisting that the sector is “booming” when two-thirds of freelancers are reported to be out of work, but the Culture Sec drew a connection between improving this situation and the burgeoning tax reliefs, pointing to a “framework to improve the job prospects of freelancers by allowing huge amounts of investment to come in” via the reliefs. As ever with these government sweeteners, the devil will be in the detail, and queries came flooding in from our sources over whether this will lead to an influx of foreign filmmakers shifting location to the UK (which could create its own set of problems) and whether movies that eschew a theatrical release can still benefit. Some ‘i’s’ and ‘t’s still require dotting and crossing (check this handy Twitter thread from indie film bod Neil Chordia), but the first step towards recovery has been taken, and it’s a significant one.

Trip To Poland

"Bay of Spies" & Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice (PiS)
“Bay of Spies” & Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party

After the screen went black: To Poland, where I have been speaking to industry insiders and experts for the past couple of weeks to piece together the state of play after a dramatic day over Christmas 2023 when national broadcaster TVP was dissolved and TV screens, briefly, went black. The moment of high drama was initiated by Donald Tusk’s incoming Civic Coalition following eight years of opposition rule from the right-leaning Law & Justice party. Tusk grabbed the broadcasting bull by the horns and fired bosses from a pubcaster that was seen as nakedly propagandist under Law & Justice. But two months on, things haven’t exactly gone smoothly, and the broadcaster’s recovery is currently locked in legal stalemate as rivals swoop for eyeballs in one of Europe’s most populous countries. “This is the consequence of treating Polish public TV as a wh*re,” director Michal Rogalski told me. Interested? Dive deeper here.

Tough Earnings Day

Green shoots: Thursday was European conglom earnings day and there were bitter pills to swallow, along with some green shoots. Britain’s ITV and Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 posted within a couple of hours of each other and both revealed that profits had nosedived by more than $100M apiece in 2023, in what was undoubtedly a tricky 12 months that saw the bottom fall out of the TV ad market, paired with the U.S. labor strikes. Both were bullish about future prospects, nonetheless, with ITV boss Carolyn McCall indicating that the situation is already looking rosier with an improved Q1 2024 ad market and ProSieben saying Q4 2023 income was up “significantly.” The nets have already acted, with ProSieben laying off around 10% of staff midway through last year and ITV recently selling its 50% of BritBox International to BBC Studios along with forging a “strategic restructuring and efficiency programme.” This, combined with green shoots being displayed by the 2024 economy, means things will likely look a bit healthier when we pen this newsletter in a year’s time. Production powerhouse Banijay, against the grain, saw EBITDA rise by 6.7% last year, with owner FL Entertainment putting this down to “proven superbrands and series renewals” along with its acquisitions and move into live events. But the Big Brother maker’s debt pile remains stubbornly high in the region of €2B ($2.2) — even if the majority has been deferred for several years — and this will be a cause for concern for the French-headquartered giant.

Taking TalkTV Off The Box

Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan

“Audiences have moved fast”: Over the past couple of years, two disruptors have zoomed their way in to the UK TV news market to try and shake things up, but the ride has been bumpy. Rupert Murdoch’s TalkTV announced earlier this week it will soon be going online-only, a move that preceded the most serious GB News breach of the Ofcom code to date, along with some less-than-rosy financials for the latter network. TalkTV’s move was hardly a surprise given that it was following the lead of star presenter Piers Morgan, who announced several weeks ago that he would be following viewers to YouTube for his daily show. Delivering the anno, News UK broadcasting boss Scott Taunton said: “Two years ago, we would not have been brave enough to launch a channel without a linear presence, but audiences of all ages have moved fast and smartphones are now the primary device where news is consumed.” TalkTV launched several months after GB News and has always trailed in the ratings, even with Morgan attracting starry guests such as Donald Trump and Cristiano Ronaldo. It has never threatened to touch the sides of the news ratings dominance still enjoyed by Sky News and BBC News and has broadly failed to cut through into the wider public consciousness in the way that GB News has.

GB News summoned once again: GB News, which has been hit with one regulatory investigation after another over its programing, pushes on, but was given its biggest slap on the wrist so far on Wednesday, with Ofcom saying it has “significant concerns” over its live output and summoning bosses for a meeting after former contributor Laurence Fox’s “unambiguously misogynistic” rant went unchallenged. This is the second time in less than a year that GB News has had such a summons, but it is under no obligation to go and Ofcom has so far shown little desire to go much further. I asked Lucy Frazer whether the regulator needs more power to act, but she pushed against the notion. “I saw Ofcom a couple of weeks ago and they didn’t ask for any more power,” she revealed to us. Dan Wootton, who had been suspended since the Fox incident happened on his watch, quit the following day to launch his own platform — the catchily-named danwoottonoutspoken.com — and he used an outgoing broadside to slam the “Ofcommunist censors” who are targeting GB News. It was all getting a bit silly. Less silly was GB News’ financial results published earlier this week, which showed losses ballooning from £30.7M to £42.4M for the year to May 31, 2023. The disruptors roll on, just about, but things are anything but smooth.

Supersex Sells

Tinny Andreatta (inset) and Netflix's 'Supersex'
Tinny Andreatta (inset) and Netflix's 'Supersex'

Tinny knows best: Netflix Italy boss Tinny Andreatta is one of the smartest commissioners out there and has nurtured a reputation in recent years for greenlighting modern fare that speaks to what Italy is today — not yesteryear. Supersex is one of her biggest bets yet and she and writer Francesca Manieri sat down with Jesse to explain how it came to be that the streamer wanted to pen a series about an infamous hardcore porn star. “I was sure he was joking,” Maneri says of first hearing about the idea from storied Italian producer Lorenzo Mieli. And yet here we are. Later in the interview, Tinny reveals how she feels the golden age of Italian cinema, when the likes of Rossellini, Fellini and Pasolini were at their peak, has led to certain tropes and images becoming associated with the country, which aren’t always helpful when trying to form new ideas. Well worth a read — dive in here.

The Essentials

J.A. Bayona, Carmen Maura, Daniel Hendler
J.A. Bayona, Carmen Maura, Daniel Hendler

🌶️ Hot One: Society of Snow’s J.A. Bayona (left) has set his next project, a psychological horror with backers including Studiocanal.

🌶️ Another: Charles Sobhraj, AKA The Serpent, will be interrogated in a new Channel 4 documentary 18 months after his prison release.

❤️ Breaking Baz: Take a few minutes out of your day to read this incredibly touching tribute from our Baz to the late, great Jenne Casarotto.

🏆 Awards latest: Dune Part Two, The Crown and Scream VI were celebrated at the Global Entertainment Awards. Stewart was there for us.

Festivals latest: Hong Kong’s Filmart kicks off next week against a complicated backdrop. Liz had more.

💰 Heavy fine: A cool $1.8B for Apple demanded due to its European antitrust case involving Spotify.

👔 Layoffs: At Prime Video Europe, where consultations have begun. Jesse had more.

🚪 Exiting: Scotland’s STV boss Simon Pitts, who resurfaced a day later at Global.

🕵️ Agents investigation: Jake’s stellar reporting on the darker side of the UK agenting landscape has resulted in IAM being removed from a professional body, while Equity has called for self-tape rules in new contracts.

🤝 Done deal: Rachel Weisz is the latest big star to lock in a first-look with Fremantle.

👩🏻 New job: For Netflix’s Nuha El Tayeb, who will lead the streamer’s Arabic content following Ahmed Sharkawi’s exit.

🍿 Box office: Very spicy Dune: Part Two worldwide opening at $182.5M.

🏪 Setting up shop: Actor-producer Esha Bargate, who wants to challenge how Hollywood views and portrays Indian culture and society with her new prodco.

🖼️ Slate: Mo Abudu’s Baby Farm led Netflix Africa’s latest roster of series and movies.

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