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UK creative industries have 'soup kitchen mentality,' says Lord Puttnam

Lord Puttnam had some home truths for the UK creative industries last week during a speech about entrepreneurship. Should the film industry be concerned?

In a speech promoting the NFTS’ new course in entrepreneurial producing Lord Puttnam last week had some home truths for the UK creative industries, saying they have developed “something of a soup kitchen mentality” and that the UK risks being “caught asleep at the wheel” during the digital revolution unless it stimulates entrepreneurship and job creation in the creative sectors.

“I’d argue that we have focused far too much on supporting and protecting subsidies for the supply-side of production, and nothing like enough on growth of the demand-side – particularly beyond our European boundaries,” said the former film producer. “If anything we’ve developed something of that same ‘soup kitchen’ mentality that’s bedevilled much of the European industry for the past forty or so years.”

“Had we in the UK really focused on digital skills and entrepreneurship two decades ago, we might now be in a position to generate the type of growth in jobs and revenue we so desperately need”, he continued.

“The reality is that consumer behaviour has changed and unless we find ways to effectively exploit these new digital platforms then the overall revenues available to us will continue to shrink. We need every scrap of entrepreneurship available to us.”

Lord Puttnam’s words have clear significance for the film industry.

The BFI last week published its 2012 statistical yearbook, which heralded a marquee year for the UK film sector. The UK is improving its infrastructure, level of inward investment, exports and continues to develop a fine array of creative talent.

But some of the statistics indicate that the film industry is one of the creative sectors heavily reliant on subsidies for the “supply side of production.”

The BFI estimates public funding for UK film to have been £358m in the financial year 2010/11, up 35% from £266m, despite some of the worst economic conditions Britain has experienced in decades. Inward investment crossed £1bn for the first time.

Production funding accounted for 73% of public subsidies, largely through the tax credit, despite the total number of films produced in the UK dropping from 343 in 2010 to 274 last year.

Similarly, in the private sector, there is no shortage of financiers prepared to take risks on production.

As Lord Puttnam points out, however, the need to effectively exploit digital platforms remains key to future growth. In ‘the age of the entrepreneur’, as Inside Pictures programme director Jill Tandy called it in May, the industry is still waiting for a surge in new UK film businesses and models capable of harnessing digital to lucrative effect.

A number of exhibitors and distributors are experimenting with new and successful forms of film dissemination and most are benefitting from upgrades in digital technology. The BFI is also shifting some focus to “the demand side.” Its latest manifesto was entitled ‘It begins with the audience’.  

But there is ongoing concern that the revenues generated by digital distribution will not bridge the revenue gap created by a shrinking physical (DVD) distribution market.

LoveFilm and Netflix are a boon for distributors but it may require a number of innovative homegrown start-ups to bridge such gaps, according to Lord Puttnam.

Comparing the UK to the United States, he called for more jobs to be created in the creative sectors by encouraging more start-ups: “…(it is) what the UK should be doing, and arguably could be doing rather more easily than the US given the wealth of creativity and imagination we have at our disposal.”

62,000 people worked in the UK film industry in 2011, an increase on 2010, and most film companies are small in size.There is growth and job creation but is it in the right domains?

While the UK film sector has been relatively well insulated from economic recession Lord Puttnam’s fears are that it may need to draw in or produce more creative business minds capable of pushing film’s profitability across the rising number of digital platforms if it is to generate holistic growth.

The message seems to be that production will continue as the bell cow, but the industry needs to stimulate significant growth in other sub-strands if it is to remain strong.

Twitter: @andreaswiseman

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