ITV in huge cash boost for film

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The Independent Online
Six major UK broadcasters will next week unveil an unprecedented investment in the British film industry, promising pounds 100m over five years to develop high-quality movies for theatrical release.

The scheme, backed by Carlton, Granada, United News & Media, Yorkshire- Tyne Tees, HTV and STV, will also give the ITV Network a first chance to broadcast the films on free terrestrial television, before the rights revert to the producers.

The investment marks one of the largest commitments to British film since Channel 4 launched its own, highly successful scheme, which led to such hits as Four Weddings and a Funeral. It will be a huge boost to the country's independent producers, who have struggling to find financing even for modest films.

The BBC has also leapt into the movie production business, as a way of helping to finance its own schedule. About half of the films it finances get a theatrical release.

Senior executives declined to discuss the plan yesterday. A major launch is planned for Tuesday, presided over by Leslie Hill, chairman of the ITV.

The plan has been driven by commercial imperatives. The ITV network has been hard pressed to compete against an increasingly populist BBC schedule, despite a network budget of pounds 600m a year. Under the film development plan, the six broadcasters will give the network rights to their films at a much lower cost, in exchange for keeping the rights to subsequent viewings. This should enable the ITV companies to sell secondary rights to cable and satellite broadcasters.

A senior ITV source said last night: "Too often, the Network Centre pays a huge price for programmes, only to broadcast them maybe once or at most twice in seven years. Under this plan, the producers will be able to seek other markets, and therefore the costs to the network will come down."

In one example suggested by an industry source, a film that might have originally cost ITV pounds 1m would be sold for one or two television viewings at half that price. The producer would make up the rest, through theatrical release if possible or through the cable, satellite and overseas markets.

Channel 4, led by Michael Grade, has led the way in the production by TV companies of theatrical films. The fourth channel believes a theatrical release provides excellent "marquee appeal", ensuring big audiences when the movies finally reach the small screen.

British films have been living through a minor renaissance in recent years, with hits such as Four Weddings, Shallow Grave, The Madness of King George and this year's Trainspotting and Secrets and Lies. Ironically, film-makers complain that develop- ment money is still difficult to raise, particularly for films that have no pre-sold rights overseas.

The ITV companies behind the plan, which include the six largest, are all involved to varying degrees in the film business. But next week's announcement will for the first time provide a benchmark fund for the commercial sector.