Friday, November 4, 2011

Animation industry needs a break

This post first appeared in Broadcast Magazine (subscription required)

We’re a bit suspicious of ‘government support’ in the UK; it smacks of retreat – Dunkirk and all that. The Brits prefer a stiff upper lip, a ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach as our ocean liners slip beneath the frozen waters.

There’s a time for the phlegmatic approach but there’s also a time to dress up as Bob The Builder and run across Westminster Green screaming “somebody do something” at the top of our voices. This is one of those times for the UK TV animation industry.

Put simply, an industry that was until recently all-conquering is now in crisis. Subsidies and government support for the animation industries of Ireland, Canada, France, Benelux, much of South-East Europe, Australia, Germany and Singapore, to name but a few, have distorted the market for kids’ animation in particular and put the UK at a huge disadvantage.

Chorion, Chapman, Coolabi, HIT and E-One are all in the process of refinancing or changing hands, and mostly not through choice. Bob The Builder, Chuggington and Octonauts, for example, are produced overseas, and even we at Aardman are having to consider the idea of producing a stop-frame series overseas to access soft money and make the show affordable to produce.

Ideas conceived in this country are being driven into the arms of our subsidised overseas competitors for production services. “So what?” I hear people say. “Join the rest of us manufacturing in China/India – it’s the new economic reality.” The problem is we are outsourcing our kids’ cultural heritage. Our overseas competitors aren’t just manufacturing our shows, they are learning how to create them for themselves,  and soon they won’t need us to give them the raw creative materials.

Beleaguered UK broadcasters will be able to buy all the rights they want in British-looking shows at a fraction of the cost of the ‘real thing’ – but the shows may not be as good, and certainly won’t be as culturally relevant.

Animation UK’s report, Securing the Future of UK Animation, paints a very clear but bleak picture of the industry, but also makes a compelling case for government support for the UK TV animation industry, and comes down in favour of the tax credit model that has been so successfully attracting inward investment into the British film industry.

Amid the chaos of the Irish economic meltdown, section 481 tax relief for Irish producers has been protected because it works and is profitable for the Irish exchequer, as would be a tax credit for the Treasury.

Tax credits work better than subsidies because they don’t create an environment in which unrealistic projects get financed; they don’t favour experts in form-filling. They favour people who get their shows financed and produced, and therefore endorsed by the commercial market rather than supported by the subsidised one.

So unless we want Bob or Peppa or Fireman Sam driving on the right side of the road all of a sudden, we need urgent and decisive, remedial action to level the playing field for the UK animation industry. Our natural instinct to ‘keep calm and carry on’ just won’t work at this time. We need to get noisy.

Miles Bullough is head of broadcast at Aardman Animations. Animation UK’s report, Securing the Future of UK Animation, is available to download from