Whilst the pandemic battered a number of industries, film and TV seemed to weather the storm thriving rather than simply surviving it.
Much of the credit for this can be attributed to the seemingly unexciting Film and TV Production Restart Scheme, a government backed insurance offering, which received little of the acclaim of other Covid-era schemes.
However, despite calls from indie productions, the government confirmed its plans to cut the £500m initiative at the end of this month.
Although the scheme will continue to provide cover until June, John McVay, chief executive of PACT, the UK screen sector trade body, said it had been a “lifeline” for the industry.
In a pre-pandemic world, big insurers would guarantee film productions for additional costs during a shoot, including actor injuries, unforeseen weather or schedule delays.
Therefore, when self-isolation and postponed filming became the norm from March 2020, this spelled danger for production firms.
Commercial insurers – understandably – weren’t up for the risk. Enter the Restart scheme, which gave showbiz “the confidence to get back to work by July”, McVay told City A.M..
Not only did the speedy rollout by the government mark the single biggest indemnity fund supporting the audio and visual economy in the world, but “the vast majority of broadcasters wouldn’t have been able to make such a recovery without the scheme”, McVay explained. “They would have had to revert to low risk and unexciting dramas”.
A successful intervention
Supporting more than 1,000 TV productions in 18 months, including fan favourites like Killing Eve and Peaky Blinders, the government saved not only the industry, but also the nation from boring TV.
More importantly, the industry pumped £3.2bn back into the economy according to the Production Restart Scheme data, reducing the number of creatives on furlough and cementing Britain’s position as a world leader.
Part of this boom is also down to the industry’s ability to develop comprehensive testing. The boss of one firm which provides on-site testing, Cignpost Diagnostics’ Denis Kinane, reckons firms need a “safety net” now and going forward to ensure premiums aren’t strangling investment.
The majority of productions in the UK now require weekly and even bi-weekly testing, imposing isolation rules on cast and crew if they test positive. Nonetheless, insurers’ appetite for the industry remains patchy.
“Although Covid is politically over, this is not how insurers see it. The reality is that commercial insurers still aren’t ready to provide cover, largely due to the uncertainty of mutations and variants”, McVay explained.
Time for the City to take a starring role?
Indeed, part of PACT’s ongoing work has been collaborating with the government to lobby commercial insurers to get back on board. “Whilst there are some commercial insurers who are willing to take the chance, there aren’t enough to do it on an industry wide scale”, he said.
The worst case scenario for McVay is that when the scheme stops, production will become increasingly complicated, with investors and financiers backing out of projects because of the lack of insurance.
This will become a pertinent issue for indie firms, who have relied heavily on the scheme, leaving home-grown talent to fall behind US streaming giants that have pockets deep enough to self-fund insurance.
Overall, he said the current landscape was a huge opportunity for insurers rather than something to fear. “We [the film and TV industry] need the cover and we are happy to pay for it”.
Whilst he said it was “sad” the government didn’t consider extending the scheme until there was a functioning insurance market in place, he said the onus was now on the insurance market to capitalise on the booming industry.
With rigorous testing now widely in place, there is huge room for growth for insurers to monetise and ensure the industry continues to grow and for the City to help.
“There is money on the table for the taking”, he said, and brokers and insurers just need to be brave enough to take it.