Netflix will boost its spend on making TV shows in the UK to $1bn (£750m) this year as the streaming giant maintains the breakneck pace of its production pipeline despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Netflix, which makes shows such as The Crown and Sex Education in the UK, has increased its budget by 50% from the £500m it spent on British-made films and TV shows last year. Netflix UK had originally estimated a spend of about £400m last year, but ended up investing about £100m more.
The BBC’s total annual content budget across TV, radio and online hit £2.3bn in the year to the end of March. Within this, spend on TV content was £1.6bn. ITV spends about £1.1bn annually on content for its portfolio of channels.
Netflix’s UK budget has been invested in making more than 50 TV shows and films in 2020, against the backdrop of a UK production shutdown for a number of months earlier this year due to coronavirus restrictions.
The UK has become firmly established as the most important international production hub for Netflix, which is estimated to be spending $17bn on making and licensing TV shows and films this year, with the British budget second only to its home market in the US. About a third of all the productions Netflix makes in Europe, for its 200 million-strong global subscriber base, are made in the UK.
The binge-watching model pioneered by Netflix requires a substantial pipeline of content and the UK has taken centre stage as a production location.
“The UK is an incredibly important market to Netflix and we are proud to be increasing our investment in the UK’s creative industries,” said a spokesman for Netflix. “The Crown, Sex Education and The Witcher are among the shows that have been made in the UK this year and will be watched by the world. These shows are a testament to the depth of talent that exists here.”
The Witcher, which stars the Superman actor Henry Cavill, has been shut down twice this year due to positive coronavirus tests. The big budget series, filmed at Arborfield Studios in Berkshire, was one of the first productions in the UK to stop filming when a cast member tested positive for coronavirus in March, and halted a second time earlier this month after more positive tests.
Last October, Netflix struck a 10-year deal to take over all of Shepperton Studios, home to films ranging from Alien to Mary Poppins, to guarantee the space it needs to pump out productions without delay. The first production was the Charlize Theron film The Old Guard.
Meanwhile, Shepperton’s parent company Pinewood Studios, home to the James Bond and Star Wars franchises, has struck a similar deal with Disney. The world’s largest entertainment company agreed the long-term deal as it shifts the business, traditionally focused on cinema releases and pay TV, to streaming with the launch of the Disney+ streaming service.
Earlier this month, Disney announced that its streaming service, which has been underpinned by the $100m Star Wars TV spin-off The Mandalorian, has managed to attract 74 million subscribers worldwide less than a year after launch.
Nearly £3.7bn was spent on shooting high-end TV shows and films in the UK last year, including blockbusters such as the James Bond film No Time to Die. Although £1.95bn was spent on shooting films, the growth engine is high-end TV production, defined as shows that cost more than £1m an episode to make.
Spending on such shows, from Game of Thrones to His Dark Materials, has almost tripled to £1.7bn between 2014 and 2019, according to industry body the BFI. Almost 80% of that spend is from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Disney, which have a combined UK viewership of more than 30 million, and more than 400 million globally.