Industry unites to launch new fund and transform investment in training for unscripted TV

  • New fund will address skills shortages and inclusion including boosting training in nations and regions
  • Plans aim to increase training investment from £370,000 to £3 million a year
  • Partners at launch are: ScreenSkills, Pact, BBC, Channel 4, Sky, A+E Networks UK and Discovery UK
  • Founding investors BBC and Channel 4 have pledged significant upfront investment to kickstart a successful launch and will approve prioritisation of that investment
  • Pact backs the fund, saying indies are committed to future-proofing the industry
  • Indies to benefit from bigger pool of inclusive talent and crew in shortage areas
  • Freelancers to be supported with free slate of short courses including in areas of industry concern such as mental health and leadership and management
  • Investment priorities and decisions to be made by production companies through working groups with at least half of members from companies outside London

A new fund which will address skills gaps and shortages in unscripted television across the UK and build a bigger pool of off-screen crew and talent in the nations and regions is announced today [Thursday 15 April] by ScreenSkills with broadcasters, SVoDs and Pact. 

The new Unscripted TV Skills Fund will invest matched contributions from broadcasters and productions to address skills shortages, build a more inclusive workforce and future-proof the industry in a move designed to benefit all unscripted production.

The BBC and Channel 4 are recognised as founding investors, having provided significant upfront investment for the first two years to enable the fund to launch successfully and to kickstart training activities and interventions right from the beginning. The BBC and Channel 4 will have approval on the prioritisation of the training supported by this transitional funding. Both supported training for unscripted TV for many years through the existing TV Skills Fund.

A number of broadcasters have also contributed significantly to the development of the fund and are signing up to the principles from the start. The founding partners are Sky, A+E Networks UK and Discovery UK along with the BBC and Channel 4.

Pact has been on board from the outset and taken part in the consultations over addressing concerns at the availability of a skilled workforce. Talks across industry have taken place for more than three years.

The benefit to producers should be a stronger supply of trained professionals in key shortage roles across areas including production management, development, self-shooting skills and post-production.  Freelancers working in all genres of unscripted TV will benefit from a rolling slate of short courses. 

A minimum of 50% of the fund will be invested to support training beneficiaries based in the nations and regions, rising to 100% in specific shortage areas. The BBC and Channel 4 have asked for 100% of their broadcaster investment to be made outside of London to support skills gaps in the nations and regions, which means it will be much higher. BBC Studios has requested that 75% of its contribution be invested outside London.

Half of the membership of the council and of working groups will come from out of London and a minimum of 50% of the spend on training providers will go to out of London trainers.

A minimum of 50% of beneficiaries will meet at least one industry-recognised diversity and inclusion target. 

The Unscripted TV Skills Fund will supersede the existing ScreenSkills TV Skills Fund, which has relied on broadcaster contributions alone, and the Indie Training Fund, which has been supported by indie contributions. Expertise from both funds will be absorbed into the new one.

Contributions to ScreenSkills for investment in training for roles in unscripted television have fallen in recent years in comparison with parts of the screen industries that benefit from tax relief, such as high-end TV.

Financial modelling indicated the fund could raise in the region of £3 million a year by 2024 against contributions of around £370,000 to the existing TV Skills Fund. This timeline may be affected by the pandemic and will depend on the commitment across the whole of industry.  

Contributions will be shared between production companies and broadcasters/SVoDs. Production contributions will be due when a programme is delivered and will only relate to productions commissioned after the official launch of the fund on 1 June. 

Seetha Kumar, CEO, ScreenSkills, said: “The new Unscripted TV Skills Fund sees the industry acting collectively and strategically to address acknowledged skills shortages and to achieve access, and effective progression of an inclusive workforce. This is the right thing to do if we are to walk the walk on equal access for crew and talent to support production in all parts of the UK and maintain the standards of excellence for which we are world-renowned.”

Richard Johnston, ScreenSkills chair and former CEO Endemol Shine UK, said: "Establishing a properly financed fund that enables our world-leading non-scripted TV industry to take a long-term, strategic and coordinated approach to skills and inclusion has been a personal mission for the last three years, and I couldn’t be more delighted that we’re finally launching. Huge thanks go to BBC, Channel 4 and Pact for getting behind this from the start and showing what the industry can achieve when we work together.”

John McVay, CEO, Pact, said: “Pact has spent the past few years driving this strategy to invest in the future skills of the unscripted sector and welcomes the launch of the fund by ScreenSkills today.

“Indies recognise the importance of future-proofing the industry and are committed to playing their part to invest in training and to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in TV, particularly in the nations and regions.”

Charlotte Moore, Chief Content Officer, BBC, said: “We are delighted to be a founding investor and partner in this fund – with its critical focus on strengthening skills in the nations and English regions and improving off-screen diversity. Both are really important parts of our mission to strengthen the creative economy right across the UK. It is great that companies from all four nations will have a seat at the table to determine how the fund is spent.”

Sinead Rocks, Managing Director, Nations and Regions, Channel 4, said: “We are proud to be founding investors and partners in the Unscripted TV Skills Fund; working collaboratively with ScreenSkills, Pact, the BBC and other broadcasters to supercharge training and development. We are particularly focused on addressing skills gaps in the nations and regions and believe this fund will really help support our aims.”

Zai Bennett, Managing Director, Content, Sky UK, said: “The freelance nature of TV production means that cross-industry schemes like this are important to support people in developing their skills and to provide new opportunities for people who are under-represented. We look forward to working with all the partners involved to drive real change across the industry.”

Heather Jones, General Manager UK, SVP Content and Creative, EMEA, A+E Networks UK, said: “A+E Networks UK is committed to developing a diverse and inclusive workforce as well as commissioning production teams that better represent our audiences right across the UK. We’re delighted to be partnering with ScreenSkills on the launch of their Unscripted TV Skills Fund: an initiative that will provide opportunities for people from all walks of life to start and develop a career in TV production. This is an important moment for our industry, as we strive to create a workforce in which everyone can belong and thrive. Congratulations to Seetha and team for making this happen.”

James Gibbons, EVP, GM UK & Nordics at Discovery, said: “We are delighted to stand alongside partners like Sky and Channel 4 in building a more skilled and inclusive workforce through ScreenSkills’ Unscripted TV Skills Fund. The launch of our real-life streaming service discovery+ has seen our commissioning output significantly increase and we’re more committed than ever to investing in Britain’s world-class unscripted TV professionals.”

Tom Fussell, Interim CEO, BBC Studios, said: “BBC Studios is proud to support the new ScreenSkills Unscripted TV Fund. We look forward to collaborating with ScreenSkills to achieve the fund’s aims of a more diverse and inclusive TV industry and in building further the industry skills across the nations and regions of the UK.”

Please see the notes to editors for further details of how the new fund will work and an appendix of further industry support.

For press inquiries, please contact Louise Jury, ScreenSkills director of communications and marketing, on 07841 496636 or louise.jury@screenskills.com

NOTES to editors:

Further details of how the new fund will work:

Unscripted UK productions contribute 0.25% of the agreed price of the commission split equally between the broadcaster or SVoD and the production company, up to an agreed cap. This means for every £1,000 spent, the broadcaster will pay £1.25 and the production company will pay £1.25.

The broadcaster/SVoD will collect the fund contribution for the production company, as with Directors UK fees. The broadcaster/SVoD will be responsible for submitting all production company contributions directly to ScreenSkills.

As with existing ScreenSkills’ skills funds, the Unscripted TV Skills Fund will be run by a council comprised of representatives from indies across the UK who it is felt are best placed to prioritise the job grades which need action and identify the most appropriate solutions. 

A steering group of contributing broadcasters, SVoDs and producers will oversee the fund’s strategic objectives and operational efficacy. Production companies alone will sit on the working groups who will ensure investment decisions are based in on-the-ground experience based on five core areas of need - craft and tech, production, post-production, development, and industry and business skills.  

Training priorities and spend will be recommended by the working groups, agreed by the council and ratified by the steering group.

Agreed genres to be supported with training are specialist factual, general factual, factual entertainment, sport, entertainment, current affairs, arts and classical music, religion and ethics and education. 

Any factual productions accessing tax credits and contributing to the HETV Skills Fund or Children’s TV Skills Fund will not be expected to also contribute to this fund.

A series of Q&A sessions for production companies will be held in coming weeks to answer queries and explain details of the plans.

Appendix of further industry support:

Philippa Childs, Head of Bectu, said: “Bectu members in unscripted TV regularly tell us that there are gaps in training provision in the industry, so it is really positive to see Screenskills and broadcasters respond to mounting calls for change by announcing this investment in a new Unscripted TV Skills Fund.

“If anyone requires evidence that such a fund is necessary, they need look no further than a recent Bectu, Viva La PD and Bournemouth University survey of 1,200 TV freelancers which found that a staggering 70% of respondents with management responsibilities had not received adequate training in the practical and legal aspects of managing people.  

“The focus on building an inclusive workforce is also extremely welcome. The same Bectu survey found that 73% of respondents feel that recruitment practices in TV are unfair, and we know that diversity remains a problem in the industry.”

Fatima Salaria, Managing Director, Naked, said: “This fund will really help us to support and nurture a diverse range of off-screen talent across the UK. Having the right people in place to make our shows is crucial and supporting freelancers by investing in training will really help - especially in areas where skills shortages are identified. This runs through the DNA of Naked, we are committed to do this because we know it will ultimately deliver better- made, inclusive programmes for the audience.”

Nicola Hill, Managing Director, The Garden, said: “The launch of the fund is a long overdue investment in our talented unscripted teams, for whom training has often been a luxury, resulting in individuals feeling under-prepared and exposed.  It is an incredibly welcome boost to the unscripted industry – it’s a positive recognition of the vital importance and value of training, as well as an essential scheme to help strengthen and grow diverse and out-of-London talent.”   

Kate Beal, CEO, Woodcut Media, said: “Talent is the lifeblood of every indie and our industry as a whole. Training at any stage in your career can be transformative for the individual and as an indie there is only an upside to nurturing our workforce at every stage of development. Over the last year my team have regularly attended ScreenSkills sessions and they have been a valuable source of support and knowledge. To take this further into targeted training in unscripted is an exciting prospect. Financially it makes sense for the production community’s contributions to be taken from programme budgets as these shows will naturally benefit as the scheme develops. This scheme will ensure the UK retains its position as a world leader in unscripted content and that gives us the confidence to keep pushing the creative boundaries.”

Alan Clements, CEO of Two Rivers Media, said: “I’m delighted the industry has come together to support this new fund, and it’s focus on out-of-London training supports and reinforces a really exciting move in the current market”.

Cat Lewis, CEO and Exec Producer, Nine Lives, said: “It’s so important that as an industry we make this commitment to raising money for training so it’s wonderful ScreenSkills is making it happen and that the focus is on out-of-London.” 

Bella Lambourne, HR and Operations Director, Banijay UK, said: “A few years ago, the thought of an industry-wide unscripted TV training fund may have seemed like a pipe dream. I’m delighted that after all the hard work of ScreenSkills and the dedicated task and finish groups, the fund is finally becoming a reality in June. This will enable sustainable skills training, funded and designed by the industry, throughout the country, to ensure the UK TV industry remains world-class, inclusive and fit for the future.”

Verity Barrow Sutton, Head of Production, Optomen Television, said: "Optomen are delighted the scheme is launching in 2021. We are committed to participating in the fund, having confidence in the benefit it will bring the industry as a whole and in particular to supporting and growing people from under-represented groups and in the regions."

Harry Bell, Managing Director, Tern TV, said: “Nurturing and building new talent has always been at the heart of our business because we believe TV is all about futures. In the nations, things are moving fast as broadcasters are at last waking up to the fact that a more representative, diverse and inclusive culture on screen, and off, will enable all of us to make better programmes. Training, adapting and learning new skills are more important than ever and ScreenSkills are an industry leader at enabling this. We look forward to working with Seetha and her first-class team to shape the future and help new generations succeed wherever they come from, and whoever they are, across the UK.”

James Burstall, CEO, Argonon, said: “ScreenSkills have devised an important new programme to develop and support diverse talent in the regions. Despite all the challenges of the last year, this is a burning platform too hot to ignore and it is our collective responsibility to lean into the challenges of diversity and inclusion in the media. This will be a backbone of our next efforts - providing leadership to the whole industry. Count us in.”

 

Jane Muirhead, Managing Director, Raise the Roof, said: “I really welcome this unified approach to training across the UK. I look forward to the fund building on the success of the peerless Series Producer Programme and am excited to see how Indies will collaborate to achieve even more in the future.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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