Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry into British Film and High-End Television
Paramount is one of the world's leading producers of premium entertainment content. This is underpinned by the $15bn we invest in content annually. Paramount is a leading investor in the UK’s creative economy.
For three decades, Paramount has been the most successful international supplier of pay-TV channels to the UK market, in particular MTV, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. The UK is also a key international market for the Pluto TV service which offers over 100 curated FAST (free ad-funded streaming television) channels that combine traditional linear entertainment with internet video that viewers love.
Under Paramount’s stewardship since 2014, Channel 5 and My5 have successfully carved a position in the market as a destination for factual programming, as well as drama, kids, news, and current affairs. The channel now offers audiences a high-quality, locally produced schedule, with a major focus on the domestic social agenda.
Paramount Pictures, the oldest Hollywood Studio, has long considered the UK a crucial hub for making and distributing both global franchises and local projects. Last year Paramount launched subscription streaming service Paramount+ for UK audiences.
PARAMOUNT OPERATIONS IN THE UK
As noted above, Paramount has UK interests in free-to-air public service broadcasting, pay-TV, subscription video on demand (SVOD), advertising-based video on demand (AVOD), film production and free ad-supported television (FAST). For the purposes of this inquiry, we will focus on the entities that most regularly engage in production and distribution of film and HETV in the UK - Channel 5, Paramount+, and Paramount Pictures.
Channel 5 has undergone a creative transformation since our acquisition in 2014 - it now spends around £210m a year on content, £125m of which is invested in more than 100 independent producers from across the UK. This has allowed Channel 5 to display greater range and ambition in its commissioning. Channel 5 differentiates itself from its PSB colleagues (ITV, BBC, Channel 4) as a more regional channel that caters to audiences outside of London, and a significant news, current affairs, and factual content offering. Channel 5 has been making more high-quality British drama in recent years which continues to deliver strong results for both linear viewers and on its My5 BVOD service.
Channel 5 grew its audience share for the fourth consecutive year in 2022. The channel’s strong slate of drama, alongside new and returning factual formats, was a key driver, with drama accounting for the channel’s top five shows of the year. The Teacher, starring Sheridan Smith, became the channel’s highest ever commissioned drama, drawing in an audience of 4.3m across its run. This was followed closely by the third series of All Creatures Great and Small (3.8m), The Holiday (2.9m) and Maxine (2.6m).
Factual programming has also remained a solid performer for the channel. The Yorkshire Farm: Reuben & Clive was the channel’s highest new factual show of the year with 2.1m watching the two-parter, while returners Warship: Life At Sea, Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly and Ben Fogle: New Lives In the Wild all attracted more than 2m viewers.
Milkshake! is the preschool block on C5 aimed at 2-5 year olds. Channel 5 is the only terrestrial PSB that airs kids’ content every morning and has a commitment to 50 hours of UK originated programming each year. Milkshake! brings sunshine into people’s homes every day, celebrating and reflecting the lives of British children and their families.
The launch of Paramount+ in the UK last year – alongside investment in C5, My5, Pluto TV and our pay channels – means we have multiple touchpoints to deliver great content to our audiences, giving us even greater opportunity to support the UK’s production sector. Paramount Television International Studios is responsible for creating both local and global content for Paramount+. Since the launch of Paramount+, our Cardiff-based HQ has commissioned 35 original productions for Paramount.
Paramount+ is home to more than 12,000 hours of content - we believe it offers the broadest range of any streaming service, with must-see content for all ages at a competitive price. The streaming service continues to grow at pace in the UK, following a successful launch in May 2023. In the UK, we continue to drive distribution and brand awareness through creative partnerships, such as those with British Airways and Three UK.
Since launch, the best performing factual titles on Paramount+ have all been UK originations. In 2023, that trend has continued with new true crime shows like Love Rats and Madeline McCann: The Case Against Christian B. Upcoming UK content launches on Paramount+ include: The Burning Girls; Sexy Beast; The Doll Factory; and A Gentleman in Moscow.
The UK continues to be a ‘home away from home’ for Paramount Pictures. The UK has been a key international filming location for several years including for recent global box office hits including the Mission: Impossible franchise, Transformers, Dungeons and Dragons, and the Elton John biopic Rocketman.
The Mission Impossible movies also use the UK as geographical hub. Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 was released this Summer, and Part 2 is currently in production. Our Bob Marley epic is currently filming in locations around London, and the third instalment of the A Quiet Place franchise was produced this year at Longcross Studios. Paramount Pictures is currently making the next Sonic film in the UK, as well as the TV mini-series following his echidna sidekick Knuckles.
RESPONSE TO QUESTIONS
1) How attractive is the UK as a global destination for the production of film and high-end television? 1a) What are the barriers to maintaining and increasing overseas investment in the sector? 1b) What are the benefits and challenges of overseas investment for the UK’s film-making capacity?
The UK remains a global hub for the production of film and HETV. It is Europe’s largest production sector and continues to be one of the most attractive locations for audio-visual content creation in the world. The UK also has a rich and diverse cultural heritage, which provides inspiration and material for stories and characters alongside world-class infrastructure and facilities for film and TV production, which include studios, sound stages, post-production houses, and special effects companies.
Alongside the studios and stages, the UK also has an incredible and varied topography that lends itself to great storytelling. Indeed, the producers of Channel 5’s All Creatures Great and Small regard the Yorkshire Dales as almost a character within the story. At the same time, Brad Pitt can run through the streets of Glasgow instead of Philadelphia and Tom Cruise can jump off a train in ‘Austria’ that is in fact next to a quarry in Derbyshire.
The UK has a highly skilled and talented workforce, which includes experienced actors, directors, writers, producers, technicians, and crew members. The UK also has a strong tradition of training and education in film and TV, with many prestigious institutions and programmes that nurture new talent. Strong PSBs (BBC, Channel 5, ITV, Channel 4) alongside a competitive commercial broadcast sector (Sky, Paramount, Warner Brothers Discovery) means that there are a multitude of options for workers to learn their craft in British television beyond film and HETV. In 2022 the combined total spend on film and high-end television (HETV) production in the UK was £6.27 billion from 415 productions. This is the highest combined film and HETV spend ever reported for a single calendar year.
Whilst we must celebrate the UK’s film and HETV success, it is important to acknowledge that to keep pace with other global jurisdictions there must be a constant assessment to ensure tax reliefs reflect needs, and that skills, talent, and facilities remain world class.
Bringing forward the Media Bill in the King’s Speech and ensuring it is passed into law by the end of the next Parliament will be crucial to the UK retaining its attractiveness as a destination for film and TV production. As outlined in more detail below, PSBs are a key part of the UK’s film and TV ecology and talent pipeline. The Media Bill offers Government a real opportunity to bring forth vital proposals to support PSBs, including updating the out-of-date prominence regime.
2) What are the current challenges facing the UK’s independent film production sector?
Supporting UK independent film production is important to Paramount – not only does it provide a creative pipeline for talent, but it also adds to the variety and diversity of storytelling for UK audiences. By acquiring distribution rights to some small UK films, Paramount has been able to apply its expertise to help bring stories that don’t often get the viewership or acclaim that they deserve.
For example, in 2019 we distributed the UK gang drama Blue Story, directed by RapMan. The film had a traditional UK premiere and marketing campaign alongside an innovative digital campaign to reach younger audiences most likely to be interested in the story. This year we acquired global rights for British urban action-comedy Sumotherhood that marks the much-anticipated return to filmmaking for BAFTA winner Adam Deacon.
Paramount is supportive of industry partners like the British Film Institute (BFI) who are committed to encouraging and nurturing independent filmmaking across all demographics. However, we are also acutely aware that smaller films struggle for funding. This is coupled with challenges from increased costs, access to talent and changing viewer habits.
As the representative body for independent producers in cinema and television, Pact has undertaken detailed research in this area, both qualitative and quantitative, that points to significant market failure. We are therefore supportive of proposals by Pact to boost the development of lower-budget feature films in the UK through an increased rate of tax relief for films with a budget £1M-15M.
2a) What is the demand for and capacity for production of films with a clear British identity? 2b) Are the nations and regions of the UK adequately represented and supported in the production of British films?
The UK has consistently punched above its weight in terms of its representation in the global box office. Preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, British films were routinely generating over 20% of total box office earnings on a worldwide scale. While this number experienced a notable decline in 2020, it rebounded to a 16% market share by 2022. As per the BFI, this annual global market share for UK films is strongly connected to the success of films produced by major US companies like Paramount for whom the UK is a home away from Hollywood. We therefore support any efforts to increase the representation in the film and TV industry across the UK.
Productions like Sumotherhood, which portrays East London Street culture, wartime drama Allied, or music biopic Rocketman are great examples of films with clear, British identities that have global appeal. The nations and regions have always been important bases for producing Paramount films such as: World War Z in Scotland; Dungeons and Dragons in Northern Ireland; Mission Impossible in the Midlands and Yorkshire. And our TV productions are spread across the nations and regions.
3) What more can be done to incentivise film and high-end television production in the UK?
PSBs are the cornerstone of a vibrant broadcast sector for UK producers and viewers. We warmly welcomed the publication of the draft Media Bill in March 2023 and remain hopeful that the government will include the Media Bill in the King’s Speech in November and bring forward legislation soon thereafter to ensure it can progress through Parliament. We thank the Committee for its calls to bring forward this bill and welcome your support to ensure Parliament and Government recognise the urgency of implementing this Bill to strengthen and protect the health and vitality of our world-leading British broadcasting and creative sector.
The Media Bill offers Government a real opportunity to bring forth many vital proposals to update regulation for the wider broadcast ecology, including updating the out-of-date prominence regime. Without the introduction of further prominence measures in statute, there is a significant risk that PSB content will be harder to find for British audiences, not because PSB services are not valued but simply because global players are able to purchase prominence on unregulated platforms. This in turn could harm our long-term ability to invest in the growth of the creative industries in the UK across our portfolio.
Inward investment from around the world will only occur where there is an attractive, renewable base of creativity, skills, innovation, talent, and infrastructure. The PSBs play this role to support the health of the wider sector – supporting the production sector and creating formats and shows which drive huge viewing in secondary windows. It is worth noting that recent Channel 5 commissioned dramas have regularly driven strong viewing in secondary viewing on Netflix. The Holiday, Witness Number 3 and Deadline have each been amassing millions of views on the service.
It is therefore of the utmost importance that the Media Bill is brought forward at the beginning of the next parliamentary session.
Copyright and IP
The UK’s success as a world-leading hub for film is underpinned by a very strong IP and copyright framework. The spread of illegal and infringing content, particularly over the internet, has a significant impact on our industry and on UK consumers. Piracy not only hinders legitimate channels for distribution of content but threatens to permanently damage or displace existing and authorised distribution channels, which are unable to compete with infringing business models. This is particularly evident in our theatrical business, where the success of a film for both the producer and cinema exhibitor can be devastated due to the proliferation of illegal copies of the film online during the theatrical window. This also affects the downstream distribution as the value of the title is reduced due to its availability online.
The current size and scope of digital piracy in relation to all our content, including live events and older catalogue titles as well as new releases, is substantial. However, this has been mitigated by the availability of no-fault injunctive relief under section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act to secure orders requiring internet intermediaries to block or withdraw services from structurally infringing sites. The UK has led the way globally in this respect and provides the gold standard for other jurisdictions. Continued attention to ensuring that new technological frontiers are underpinned by future-proof and flexible IP regulation and enforcement tools is critical in creating an environment conducive to further investment and growth in film and high-end television.
We would encourage the Committee to recommend that the Government advance the following areas to further strengthen the IP regime and the tools available to combat piracy in the UK:
3a) Are the current funding routes, tax credits and governance for the industry fit for purpose?
We believe that the current state of funding and incentives for the industry is fit for purpose. Paramount welcomed HM Treasury’s introduction of a new Audio-Visual Expenditure Credit to replace the current film, high-end TV, animation, and children's TV tax reliefs. We believe that this new system has given clarity to the sector regarding OECD Pillar II rules.
Further, the uplift in credit amounts will also help stimulate investment, particularly in children’s and animated content. Paramount was also pleased that the minimum expenditure threshold of £1 million per hour for HETV continues to be maintained; this will ensure more productions featuring British stories remain in the UK.
It is important that both HM Treasury and DCMS help guide the industry as it transitions from the incentive model to the expenditure credits model next year. There are however two ongoing issues we would encourage the Committee to consider as part of its inquiry:
New provisions were introduced without consultation into the Finance Bill which seek to exclude applicability of the tax reliefs regime from payments for goods and services supplied by a connected party (linked business entity) to the extent they exceed that party’s own costs incurred in relation to the supply.
While there is a carve-out for costs of renting studios/land/premises, many other types of supply may fail to attract full relief where the supplier is connected. This could include: equipment rental, VFX, post production services, rights payments, producer and writer fees, and production fees. There are many linked businesses in the audio-visual sector for the purposes of scale and efficiency, and it is important that these provisions do not undermine production in the UK.
Further, HMRC have expressed concern that production fees (designed to cover operational costs for the producer rather than actual costs of production) made to independent producers may be too high. To date HMRC have accepted production fees less than 10% as reasonable for tax relief but are now concerned that some production fees may not really be attributable to costs of a specific production. HMRC is concerned inflated and unrelated costs are benefitting from tax relief. Production fees have been an established practice within the sector for more than a decade.
Paramount accepts that no tax reliefs should be afforded unfairly to business activity or services not linked to a cost of qualifying production, and bad practice should be prevented. Any erosion of current tax reliefs due to changes of established practices, previously accepted by HMRC, threatens to create decline rather than growth. The industry is therefore seeking clarity on both these issues from HM Treasury, and we would welcome the Committee using its inquiry to clarify these specific concerns.
4) What are the issues facing the UK’s film exhibition sector? What more can be done to protect and promote the UK’s screen heritage?
The UK has a large and diverse audience for film and TV, which includes domestic and international markets. UK cinema revenues in 2022 were strong, particularly considering the impact of the pandemic. UK box office revenue was estimated to be £902 million in 2022, 62% higher than the previous year’s figure of £556.9 million. This shows a remarkable recovery from the low point of £296.7 million in 2020, when cinemas were closed or restricted for most of the year.
However, UK cinema revenues in 2022 were still lower than the pre-pandemic level of £1.25 billion in 2019. This is in part due to some of the underlying challenges facing the exhibition sector. As with most retail or venue-based operations, operating costs are fundamental to their survival. Exhibitors understand that ticket revenue will fluctuate over time due to the varying success of the films they are showing. However, it is the fixed costs on energy, alongside inflationary pressure on wages and high business rates that present the greater challenge to exhibitors.
6) What can the industry and Government do to ensure British film and high-end television can adapt for the future? 6a) What should be prioritised to ensure a strong skills pipeline and retention in the film and high-end TV industry?
Paramount regularly works with a range of organisations to promote skills in our industry. ScreenSkills is the industry-led skills body for the UK’s screen industries, including animation, film, games, television, VFX and immersive technology. It provides skills and training support to individuals and businesses to help them grow and succeed. Paramount has representatives on several its committees that allocate funds raised from levies on production to training.
The Screen Sectors Skills Task Force was established in early 2023 to provide a response to the BFI Skills Survey and to set a strategic direction for skills development across the screen sectors. The Task Force is a sector-wide organisation, bringing together organisations from across the film and TV industries including broadcasters, platforms, production studios, screen agencies, membership bodies, unions and skills organisations. Paramount is supporter of this initiative that will publish its report in November.
The outcomes of the Screen Sectors Skills Task Force report will hopefully be an opportunity to focus on the underlying strategic challenges facing the entire sector when it comes to skills. There are several factors that influence demand on skills and training at a point in time, including macro-economic conditions, the advertising market, and shifting consumer behaviour. The industry needs to address how it can collaborate better to more effectively ensure spend on skills and training reflects the changing demands of the industry.
It is worth noting that skills development for film and HETV takes place to a huge extent outside these sectors. The UK broadcasting ecology – in particular the BBC, commercial PSBs (ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5) and Sky – are crucial for skills development in UK film and television. Many writers, actors and directors will learn and hone their craft on UK soaps, documentary, drama, children’s TV, and daytime series before they subsequently work in film or HETV. Channel 5’s recent strategy to significantly increase its drama output has created a new opportunity for talent development that will directly support future inward investment to the UK.
6b) What are the risks and benefits of artificial intelligence to the sector?
Given the broad spectrum of technologies, tools and applications that AI covers, it has a wide-ranging impact on our business operations. AI technology is already being used in the industry and at Paramount Global to support and improve all facets of our business from production and distribution to HR and Finance.
With regards to content, there are risks of a significant increase in the volume of unauthorized derivative works and works that infringe our trademarks. It will likely become more difficult for consumers to identify what is an authorized work/product and what is not.
A principles-based approach to future regulation will be important to avoid unwanted consequences for industry, in contrast to a more rigid and prescriptive form of regulation that soon becomes out of date as technology and use of AI develops. It will be crucial to tailor AI regulations, such as disclosure obligations, to reflect actual risks to IP creators, IP owners, and consumers without overbroad application to routine use of AI functionality within systems that do not create such risks.
Whilst the UK is no longer in the EU, policy makers should also consider potential costs and complexities of complying with divergent local AI regulations and standards between markets.
6c) What needs to change to ensure the industry is supporting inclusivity and sustainability.
Since 2018 all Paramount Pictures features produced in the UK meet the BFI Diversity and Inclusion Standards, regardless of whether the film will be submitted to BAFTA. Paramount Pictures works with a range of industry partners like the BFI, ScreenSkills, and Mama Youth Project to ensure our productions meet the high standards our industry peers and audiences expect.
Paramount’s broadcast and studios division has been intentional in its work to drive diversity and is encouraged by the progress reflected in the most recent Diamond Report conducted by the Creative Diversity Network. Our ‘No Diversity, No Commission’ policy continues to effect change on- and off-screen in the UK and around the world – having been adopted by Paramount colleagues in 112 markets worldwide. We have more work to do - particularly around the industry-wide under-representation of disability - and we are focused on making sure our activity at Paramount, and our partnerships with the industry, continue to drive meaningful change.
Paramount is a founding member of the TV Access Project (TAP) which aims to remove barriers for disabled talent in the TV industry. TAP complements the work individual broadcasters and streamers are already doing to address access for disabled talent in the TV industry. TAP complements the work individual broadcasters and streamers are already doing to address access for disabled talent in the TV industry. Coming together as a collective makes our impact much stronger; crucially, for Paramount, that collaboration, together with the practical insights of disabled partners, will enhance the work of our ‘No Diversity, No Commission’ policy.
Paramount has the TV industry’s highest proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic employees. However, in common with most of the industry, whilst our overall representation is generally good for white, Asian, minority ethnic and mixed-race employees, black representation is lacking in our most senior roles. As a consequence, our People Development team is rolling out a brand-new initiative called Paramount SHIFT which provides training and mentorship for black staff, as well as in-person training for senior business leaders.
Channel5/Paramount UK has been a member of albert, the screen industry organisation for environmental sustainability, since January 2020. Carbon footprint monitoring is mandatory for all commissions. In 2021 Paramount UK became a signatory of The Climate Content Pledge which commits to the industry doing more and better climate storytelling on screen across all genres.
Earlier this month Channel 5 today announced ‘Everyday Sustainability’, an editorial drive to inspire, encourage and support its viewers to live more sustainable lives, by integrating environmental themes seamlessly across its entire programming schedule.
The channel will adapt its approach to storytelling across all genres to include new sustainability angles in returning drama and factual programming. To support the rollout of ‘Everyday Sustainability’, Channel 5 will work with production companies to implement procedures designed to track environmental references on screen, pre- and post-production. This editorial tracking will complement work already underway to reduce the environmental impact of the broadcaster’s productions.
For further information:
VP Policy and Government Affairs EMEA
 Paramount film productions in the UK: 2011, World War Z starring Brad Pitt was filmed in Glasgow; 2021 Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 starring Tom Cruise was filmed in Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire.
 BFI, 2022, https://www.bfi.org.uk/news/official-2022-statistics.