British film and TV exports fall for first time in five years

Television exports suffer biggest decline

The world's love affair with British television and film may be drawing to a close, with official figures yesterday revealing the export of programmes and services fell during 2007 for the first time in five years.

The decline is a major blow to Britain's creative industries, which have been hugely successful in exporting programmes ranging from The Office to Strictly Come Dancing.

The Office for National Statistics said revenues from film and TV exports fell 8 per cent to £2.3bn. There was a much smaller decline in the value of imported programming, which means the sector's net trading surplus fell 35 per cent to £347m.

The biggest hit was taken by UK television, with the film business, driven by such franchises as Harry Potter, continuing to perform well. The television industry saw exports fall 14 per cent to £855m. Combined with imports, its net surplus slumped 45 per cent to £62m.

The largest exports were made to Europe, which picked up 57 per cent of the exported output worth £485m. The Americas licensed 29 per cent.

Of the programmes and services bought in, the lion's share came from the US, with only 33 per cent from Europe. However, John McVay, chief executive of Pact, the trade body for the independent television, film, animation and interactive industries, said greater clarity was needed from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Pact's own figures, focused specifically on television programming, suggested exports of British television were actually up by 23 per cent. The UK sells 53 per cent of all format programmes – where a country takes a concept such as Wife Swap and makes their own version – Mr McVay said.

Tim Westcott, senior television analyst at research company Screen Digest, said the UK has enjoyed huge successes in exporting TV. "The UK has seen a big success in exporting programmes, especially with reality and entertainment," he said. "Foreign companies, especially the free to air, are trying to save money, as they spend a vast amount on original drama and comedy, which has a high failure rate. They want something as relatively risk free as possible."

The US first turned its attention to UK programming with the huge success of the format of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, said Mr Westcott, though he warned exports will come under pressure because of the credit crunch.

The UK film industry fared significantly better in the ONS numbers, as its net surplus showed an 81 per cent increase on the previous year to £232m. The UK Film Council said it was the best year for exports since its records began in 1995.

The royalties from films have jumped 11 per cent to £646m, with America the keenest to pick up the output. Of those movies exported, 57 per cent go to the US, where the American love affair with actors ranging from Daniel Radcliffe to Daniel Craig, brought in £603m. Europeans picked up 32 per cent, with the remainder going to the rest of the word.

The Film Council said that the top performing film worldwide last year was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which brought in $937m worldwide. It was followed by two other UK/USA co-productions, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Golden Compass. The top UK-only export was Mr Bean's Holiday.

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