The production industry can emerge from the slowdown in a good, if different, place

As we enter 2024, the overwhelming headline for the factual TV industry is the gathering speed and scale of the pressure our sector is under. The advertising downturn – following on from Covid and the cost-of-living crisis – has impacted on everyone: broadcasters, streamers, indies and freelancers, with a severity we haven’t encountered for decades.

There are so many knock-on effects from times like these.

Ian Rumsey

Ian Rumsey

People on the first rungs of the ladder can’t get the experience and career momentum that they need, and extremely talented programme makers are leaving the industry rather than being able to wait it out.

What happens when the industry resets, as I believe it will? Will our freelance editors, runners, directors, production managers be able to return to their professions when we need them? I’m not sure.

So, it’s down to the entire industry and all the interested parties to find a way of giving these valued people some hope. A collective effort is needed to help the workforce we rely on to weather the storm.

Helping people entering the profession to upskill, offering our time and expertise to share knowledge and practical things which might stand them in good stead when things do recover. That would also be a start.

As an industry we have always looked for imaginative ways of financing shows but now we have to up our game. Whether it’s ad-funded programming, distributor deals, more acquisitions and licensing deals and generating more co-production opportunities, we have to be ever-more inventive. Otherwise many of them won’t happen.

For us at ITN, we’re by no means immune from the huge challenges facing us all, but we do have a strong development slate and number of programmes in production.

We have the advantage of a news heritage which means we can do topical, fast turnarounds and live shows. But we can also pivot into different genres, series or one-offs and broaden our production base by working at a variety of tariffs.

Having a mixed economy will hopefully help us and other indies like us, but further creative thinking about rights and IP might also help too. Doing deals with talent on the backend, for example, could create an impetus for being more imaginative when it comes to exploiting that IP.

Indeed, there may be opportunities in the event space – and not just the big shiny floor shows like Strictly on Tour (we can’t let Krish hog all the limelight after all…). If chefs and even history podcasts are going on tour, what’s to say the right factual show, with the right experts involved, couldn’t also draw a crowd?

I believe there will be a reset, a ‘new normal’, to quote a once-familiar phrase, but while there will be pain and struggle and, I’m afraid, casualties, I still believe the production industry will emerge from this in a good, if different, place.

We need to adapt to a world which is changing faster than many imagined or thought possible. But we’re creative people, working in a creative industry, so I have no doubt that if we remain robust and resilient, and foster even greater innovation and ingenuity we will bounce back strongly.

  • Ian Rumsey is managing director of Content, ITN