Six years into UK Film Tax Credits and the TV and video games industries get to join the party. Was film, as the senior industry, given priority or was it just a testing ground? That would be thinking about it too deeply, but it would probably not be far off the mark to suppose that the issue back in 2007 was possibly how to differentiate between, let’s say, “worthy” productions and cheap and cheerful mass consumer “forgettable” TV. So high-end drama, documentaries and animations now get the go-ahead while the rest look on in envy. BBC2 has just started broadcasting in HD, could it be contemplating HE next?
So, here we are in 2013 and “worthy” TV is, apparently, TV that costs at least £1 million per hour and lasts more than 30 minutes. This seems quite a high bar for documentaries to reach but it is fair to say that high-end drama should be able to notch up a series or two based on these rates. In fact animations don’t need to meet the spend and slot length tests, but then again, there is less capacity for me making a cheap TV programme on my mobile phone when a bit of animation is required
(for now at least as I’m sure an app can’t be far off!).
To ensure a ”belt and braces” approach to keeping the riff-raff out, there are some other tests for programmes to pass, plus a list of excluded types of programmes (adverts, current affairs, quiz shows, live events etc). Having satisfied oneself that these obstacles do not cause any issues, like with the film tax credits, it’s off to the BFI to get a certificate confirming that the UK cultural test has been passed or that a UK Co-Production Treaty criteria test has been met.
The scope for the use of Co-Production Treaties is rather more limited than for film, as not all treaties cover TV. The European Convention on Cinematic Co-Production certainly does not, and is unlikely to in the near future. So, for example, Irish co-productions may not be a route to TV tax credits. However, the UK TV Cultural Test is rather more flexible than the existing Film Cultural Test insofar as it has been expanded to accept a more European interpretation of culture, so there may yet be scope to produce something with an Irish flavour in the UK (and please let it be more convincing than those “Irish Bars” that seem to be popping up everywhere outside Ireland).
What about video games? Well, at the time of writing there has been a delay in obtaining EU State Aid approval and, while most of what is prescribed for film and TV will probably be vaguely replicated, the exact details are not yet final. Co-productions are not relevant and advertising and gambling products don’t count. I am not sure that the latter is a moral decision, more cultural I suspect, simply on the basis that pornography does not appear in the excluded programmes list for TV.
Just like film, participating producers can claim up to 20% of their “core UK production expenses” in cash when submitting the production company’s tax return. The model is, as you may have already guessed, broadly the equivalent of a few tweaks to a photocopy of the film tax credit legislation. So, accountants’ reports and claims will be required by our creative clients, which means we could all be working late hours and missing those quality high-end TV schedules that are, no doubt, being planned right now!
Dave Morrison, Partner at Nyman Libson Paul and Chair of the Entertainment and Media Group