Why London is becoming the new Hollywood – Evening Standard

From Netflix in Enfield to Apple TV+ in Richmond, the biggest streaming studios are decamping to the capital
Enfield has about as much in common with Hollywood as Sidcup — but it’s about to get a taste of big screen culture.
Netflix is negotiating with local developers and the council to rent the entire 230,000 sq ft Segro Park development, which comprises three vast warehouses that can be converted into studios.
The move comes shortly after the US streaming giant struck a deal to double the size of its base at Shepperton Studios in Surrey. But it is running out of space there already, after spending £750 million making 60 TV shows and films — including the Charlize Theron film The Old Guard and the Enola Holmes series.
Meanwhile, Apple TV, whose biggest hit show, Ted Lasso, starring Jason Sudeikis, is filmed in Richmond, is also understood to be interested in the Enfield site to add to its studio space in Aylesbury.
A short hop over the M25, Hertfordshire is becoming Europe’s largest TV and film production hub. It comprises three studio complexes: a £700 million investment by Sunset Studios, makers of Zoolander, at Broxbourne; a 93-acre site at Hertswood; and Sky’s 28-acre development at Elstree. And Amazon has chosen nearby Bovingdon airfield as one of the two main locations for its TV adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
The big streaming land grab doesn’t stop there. In Dagenham, property firms are building a £300 million studio, expected to be available from 2022. Atlanta-based Blackhall Studios is eyeing a £150 million project at the Thames Valley Science Park. Disney has a large-scale deal at Pinewood Studios, where Star Wars and Marvel films are made.
The bidding war over studio space is proof that Covid has not affected London’s TV and film boom. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The global appetite for on-demand entertainment soared during lockdown — and Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple, as well as the established UK broadcasters, are racing to create more film and TV than ever. Production here topped £5.64 billion in 2021, a new record.
Ted Lasso
High-end telly is driving this surge. TV spend reached £4.09 billion last year, almost double pre-pandemic levels, while expenditure on film here rose 13 per cent last year to £1.55 billion, thanks to major studio titles such as The Batman, Aquaman 2, Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible 7.
In total, 209 films went into production here last year, 75 more than 2020. In particular, it’s boom time for London: property analysts CBRE estimates that of the two million square feet of studio space across the UK that American studios are pursuing, more than half is in the capital.
But why Britain and the capital in particular? Some reasons are easy to spot. London has always been a buzzy, creative hub with some of the most talented directors, actors, screenwriters, producers and technicians based here. Peter Morgan and Jesse Armstrong, the creators, respectively, of The Crown and Succession — the two biggest prestige dramas of the past decade — are both British.
London also boasts great film crews, editors and special effects technicians. The English language makes working easy, as does the time zone; from London, executives can liaise with colleagues in Asia in the morning and the US in the evening during the working day.
Infrastructure is another draw. Studios in Hertfordshire and Surrey are so popular because they are close to Heathrow Airport and the M25 — and the Farnborough private airport that top talent prefer.
Not to mention, threats of industrial action by workers in Hollywood have also encouraged US companies to consider Britain, where unions are weaker. The speedy introduction of on-set Covid protocols and approval of quarantine exemptions for essential crew and talent to fly to the UK has helped London’s film and TV industry in the last two years.
Other reasons for the boom are more elusive — but just as important. For example, production companies can claim up to 25p in tax relief from the Government for every £1 invested. The Financial Times uses BFI figures to calculate that film and high-end TV productions have been eligible for about £4.4 billion in rebates since 2016. A report by the international consultancy Olsberg SPI with Nordicity and published by the BFI, says tax breaks of £13.48 billion have helped to create the highest ever return on investment from making movies and TV programmes in the UK. And a £500 million government-backed insurance scheme has enabled over 1,000 productions with budgets worth £2.6 billion to be made.
Still, not all of this big business makes money for the UK. In fact, all this investment shifts the balance of power in favour of the fast growing American streamers. In 2016, Netflix’s content budget was £5.1 billion, the BBC’s was £1.9 billion (with commercial partnerships adding hundreds of millions more), and ITV’s £1 billion.
The Old Guard
In 2021 Netflix’s was £12.6 billion, the BBC’s was £1.4 billion, plus commercial extras, and ITV’s £1.1 billion. In 2022, the streaming giants’ budgets are together expected to rise to £85 billion.
Ten years since Netflix transitioned from a DVD rental service to a big streamer — thereby kickstarting the on-demand TV revolution — and that’s starting to worry some UK film and TV executives. It also puts pressure on the BBC. Some government ministers are urging Boris Johnson to scrap the £159 BBC licence fee, and force the corporation to adopt a subscription model.
Channel Four is also under pressure from ministers who want to privatise it. Programme-makers there fear that any new owner is likely to want to smooth off the rough edges that make C4 distinctively British in favour of more generic dramas that are likely to sell around the world. They point to the Netflix hit Sex Education. Although it was made in Wales, it was aimed at a global audience and contained little that was distinctly Welsh.
The BBC and ITV have tried to compete with the streamers by collaborating to create streaming service Britbox, which has about 600,000 subscribers in the UK and two million globally. By contrast, analysts estimate that around four-fifths of people aged 18 to 34 in the UK have subscribed or have access to Netflix, which has more than 222 million subscribers globally.
Still, the BBC has had better luck with the iPlayer, which is free to use for licence fee payers. It broke records in 2021, with 6.5 billion programmes streamed from January to December. Normal People — iPlayer’s hit of 2020 — is estimated to have been streamed more than 62 million times.
Nonetheless, Julian Bellamy, managing director of ITV Studios, says the boom is “fundamentally good for the UK”. Though, he adds, there are “pressure points, talent shortages. These days most big name British actors, writers and directors are to be found working for one of the streaming companies.”
Can the buzz around the M25 studios translate into a coup for British broadcasters? All eyes on Enfield.
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