UK entertainment commissions rise in 2020 as TV sector revenues decline: Pact

Entertainment commissions eclipsed drama in 2020 as spend on factual entertainment grew, while the UK TV production sector posted a 14% decline in revenues from 2019. UK trade organization Pact released ...
September 8, 2021

Entertainment commissions eclipsed drama in 2020 as spend on factual entertainment grew, while the UK TV production sector posted a 14% decline in revenues from 2019.

UK trade organization Pact released the findings from its annual Pact Census and a specially commissioned COVID Long-Term Impact Study from 3Vision today (Sept. 8).

Its census found the sector’s revenues were hit hard by the pandemic, falling to £2.9 billion (US$3.99 billion) – the lowest figure since 2017.

International revenues remained above £1 billion for the second year running – despite falling by 13%, which Pact attributed to international primary commissions and sales of finished programs.

Revenue generated by commissions from on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime grew by 6% – a much smaller rate than recent years – reaching £356 million.

Domestic TV revenues were hit hardest, declining by £257 million (13%) as a result of a reduction in primary commissioning spend from the UK – the lowest since 2011.

Secondary revenues increased to over £500 million as indies looked to make money by other means while productions were paused or cancelled.

After several years of growth, spend on drama commissions fell in 2020 with entertainment commissions replacing drama as the most valuable genre, accounting for one third of UK commissioning spend in 2020.

Spend on factual entertainment increased by 5 percentage points.

Overall, spend on new commissions declined “significantly” in 2020, accounting for just 30% of overall spend.

The BBC was the largest spender on new commissions. ITV and Channel 4 slightly increased spend on new programming and Channel 5 proportionally spent the most.

The proportion spent on commissions outside of London increased slightly to 45% with Wales and South West England accounting for more than 50% of commissioning spend outside of London, according to the Census Nations and Regions annex.


As a result of the pandemic, 65% of respondents to Pact’s survey were looking to diversify and develop other areas of their business, while 74% were looking to target more SVOD commissioners rather than just free to air channels.

Still, the survey found that free-to-air TV is the biggest commissioner for UK productions representing 48% of commissions.

The number of pitches made by production companies to all national UK broadcasters increased year-on-year by 18%. The total number of commissions also increased, with the commissioning rate rising from 13% in 2019/20 to 16% in 2020/21.

Production companies in London have been the main beneficiaries from the increased number of commissions year-on-year, most notably from Channel 5.

In line with Charter commitments and targets for national representation, the BBC commissioned the most from outside of London, with Channel 4 also acquiring content particularly from the rest of England.

A quarter of all respondents had a show cancelled between April 2020 and March 2021, with the majority having one cancellation. Production companies based in the Nations were more likely to have a show cancelled than those based in England.

Pact reported the financial impact of the pandemic affected all sizes of production company based across the UK with most experiencing a notable decrease in cash reserves.

In a statement, Pact CEO John McVay (pictured) said: “The industry has taken a big hit from the pandemic and we are still in the recovery phase. The Government’s Production Restart Scheme has played an important part in that recovery and it may take many years for the industry to build back to where it was prior to the pandemic.

“In particular smaller, out of London companies have been detrimentally affected by the pandemic and with the future sale of Channel 4 on the cards, it’s those indies – who see Channel 4 as one of their primary buyers – who are going to suffer most.”

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.