Closure of Wild Pictures points to sector under strain
Paul Hamman’s decision to call time on Wild Pictures is brave and sad in equal measure, and says much about the scale of the challenges facing the indie sector.
This isn’t company with a standing army of staff – nine employees are listed on its website – or an empty order book: it’s had docs with Stacey Dooley and Miriam Margolyes TX on BBC2 already this year and Channel 4 history format My Grandparents’ War won a recommission for a forthcoming second run.
Normally, when indies are shuttered, it tends to come off the back of failing to get things away, rather than having just established a returning brand.
But when Harmann spoke to Broadcast he was typically forthright, believing that for his business, the writing is on the wall.
“It is highly competitive, budgets are falling across the board and there are no margins any longer,” he said. Few would disagree.
He cited the slowdown in the commissioning process across the broadcasters as a result of Covid-19, and said that by winding the company up now it would avoid “running into real financial problems”.
It’s a responsible approach to a difficult decision and many would have been more blinkered, ploughed ahead, and encountered precisely the crunch Hamman has foreseen.
But (forgive me Paul), Hamman is also at a stage in his life where he can make that decision without dire personal repercussions. Having put his children thorough university and paid off the mortgage, he has the freedom to be able to return to his passion of filmmaking without the pressures of running an indie.
There will be plenty of less mature true indies, or super indie labels with leaders locked into earnouts, where that is not an option. For them, and for much of the indie sector, the future is unclear.
“From office leases to payrolls, costs are being interogated with real rigour, and one very senior industry told me that now is time for companies to reassess their absolute fundamentals”
Glasgow’s Matchlight was another factual indie with a strong reputation to close, calling in the administrators in April, and it will surprise no-one if there are more casualties as we head into the second half of the year.
But there will be creative solutions too, to help indies roll with the punches.
From office leases to payrolls, costs are being interogated with real rigour, and one very senior industry told me that now is time for companies to reassess their absolute fundamentals – what they do, and why and how they do it.
The solution to staying afloat may be found in these reviews, while for others they may prompt bold moves while others rein in their ambition. That could mean hire execs seeking new roles – good luck to all those at Wild, or acquiring or merging with companies looking for the security of investment.
The indie sector is truly resilient and isn’t about to be decimated – but it could very well emerge from 2020 in a very different shape.
- Chris Curtis is editor in chief of Broadcast