Just how big is the Doctor Who dividend? It’s a question that comes up time and again in Wales today. Doctor Who - BBC Wales’ biggest network project - together with its feisty siblings, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, has had a direct impact on the Welsh tourist industry. In recent years visitor numbers to Cardiff have rocketed, propelling the Welsh capital into the top 10 UK holiday destinations.
According to Creative Business Wales, nearly 20% of leisure visitors say they were attracted to the city because of the landmarks and settings they saw while watching Time Lords and other aliens in action on the box.
However, the advantages for the Welsh broadcast sector are less clear. Undeniably Doctor Who has put Welsh TV skills on the map - at peak production times BBC Wales’ new 86,000sq ft, six-stage drama studio complex is home to more than 400 actors, writers, editors, technicians, designers and producers. However, with no sure-fire network ratings winner identified as a replacement, it’s unclear how effectively Wales-based production talent will be able to capitalise on this success in the coming years.
“Doctor Who gives freelancers and technicians stability,” says Wild Dream Films managing director Stuart Clarke. “But there’s not much in the way of crumbs falling off the table for independents. Broadcasters are giving more work to fewer indies so some companies are struggling.”
According to Creative Business Wales, there are around 50 indies in the country and overall the creative industries employ 18,000 people and have a value of £2bn. Three of the UK’s major broadcasters are in Cardiff - the BBC, ITV and S4C - and local language content is growing, spurred on by a revival in Welsh since it became compulsory in schools in the 1990s.
“Both ITV and BBC are difficult [to make money out of] in Wales,” says Tinopolis managing director Arwel Rees. “ITV’s budgets are chronically small and there’s not a lot of network stuff being generated.”
Welsh success stories
Llanelli-based Tinopolis is the biggest indie in Wales, having boosted its UK profile last year with the acquisition of well-known brands Mentorn and Sunset + Vine. It was also - together with Boomerang, Presentable, Green Bay and Cwmni Da - one of the five companies to receive what amounts to favoured producer status from Welsh language broadcaster S4C when it was allocated a share of a £1m development fund in 2005.
S4C, which is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary, has sought to reduce the number of indies it works with. It has commissioned 31 indies in the past year, down from 46 the previous year. But some of its commissions are sizeable.
Boomerang, for example, successfully bid for a children’s continuity services contract from S4C. The indie, which makes more than 500 hours of TV and radio content a year for S4C, Channel 4, BBC Wales, ITV Wales, Sky and Discovery, has made a name for itself in genres such as extreme sports, youth and drama. In April it bought facilities business Mwnci and on 5 November raised £3m by floating on AIM.
Aiming for growth
“The listing will let us raise money to carry on acquiring content production businesses, by which I mean new media content and TV content,” says Boomerang chief executive Huw Davies. “There is an opportunity for strong companies in the nations and regions to offer a different voice and style of programme-making from the networks.”
Longer term, kids TV producer Calon also has its eye on a listing, having taken minority investment from Finance Wales, the public and private sector-backed funding body set up by the Welsh Assembly. Calon’s goal is to attract further investment to fund development of both animated and live action kids shows. Calon is managed by the team that used to run Siriol Productions, maker of successful shows such as SuperTed, and has in production the second series of Hana’s Helpline, an animated show featuring an agony aunt duck, for Five, S4C and German broadcaster ZDF. It has also recently sold to S4C and Five a stop-motion series for toddlers, Ig.
Like Calon, Green Bay Media has received funding from Finance Wales. Green Bay received £300,000 from Finance Wales in 2004, with a further £500,000 two months ago. The money is being used to recruit six executive producers to help realise ambitious expansion plans.
Green Bay is busy making a series, Rivers, on six of the world’s most famous waterways, such as China’s Yangtse River. The £900,000 series was the first documentary to win funding from the Wales Creative IP Fund, which joined S4C, French broadcaster France 5 and facilities house Barcud Derwen as backers. “The message we are getting from the BBC that it wants to do business with the nations is very encouraging,” says Green Bay creative director John Geraint. “There is this joined-up thinking in Wales between the broadcasters, government agencies, facilities like Barcud Derwen and the independent sector.”
Creative Business Wales development manager Allison Dowzell is keen to underline that “the government in Wales is very forward thinking in recognising the importance of the creative industries to Wales”. She points out that the Creative IP Fund, which provides gap funding for projects that already have the bulk of their budget in place, has made 13 investments to date, totalling £4.3m, which include four TV productions, one new media project, seven feature films and one multiplatform documentary. Another three projects have been sanctioned and are at legal negotiation stage, bringing the amount committed by the fund to £5.3m.
Welsh production companies have also enjoyed a good deal of success in securing European funding. Between 2001 and 2006, more than Eu3.6m (£2.5m) was drawn down, the majority for development funding, from the MEDIA Plus fund. “Without the MEDIA money there are things that definitely wouldn’t have happened or would have happened more slowly,” says head of MEDIA Antenna Wales Gwion Owain, who helps indies prepare their tenders. Among those to have benefited are Telesgop, Element, Fiction Factory, Opus TF, Boomerang, Calon and Dinamo.
S4C and the local market
The importance of S4C to the local market is hard to overstate. The Economic Impact of S4C on the Welsh Economy 2002-2006, a DTZ report published in July, found the Welsh language broadcaster supports more than 2,250 jobs, despite having a mere 177 full-time staff of its own. Last year the broadcaster spent £76m on independent production, with the lion’s share - £72m - going to businesses based in Wales.
Despite setting up what amounts to a preferred suppliers list, S4C remains open to approaches from other indies. Richard Edwards, managing director of Element Productions - maker of programmes such as The Welsh in London, says his company and other indies are still getting work. “It’s not a closed list. What they want to do is consolidate a certain number of suppliers as they felt they used to have too many.”
Opus TF chief executive Gareth Williams, whose company makes classical music events, drama and cookery shows such as Casa Dudley, adds: “You’ll never get rid of stereotypes but if people have doubts about quality they should come here and watch what’s being made - it’s as good as what’s being made anywhere.”
One indie that has really created waves in Wales is Indus Films, launched in 2005 by former BBC execs Paul Islwyn Thomas and Steve Robinson. The latter was series producer on BBC2’s Tribe, whose adventurous presenter is filming a series for Indus to appear on BBC2 called Amazon with Bruce Parry.
“Producing content for the indigenous market is very valuable but you have to look further afield as well,” says Thomas. “For the indie sector in Wales there has been limited success in securing network commissions. But I’m sensing a change. There’s a feeling that we now have a critical mass of indies that can deliver.”
Importantly for those indies, there is a growing bank of talent to feed on. Alaw Griffith, head of development at animation company Griffilms - whose The Adventures of Gelert, based on a Welsh legend, will appear on S4C over Christmas - says her business has established links with tutors on undergraduate courses in animation at the universities of Newport, Glamorgan and Swansea. Emerging talent is invited in for work experience.
There is plenty going on in the facilities sector as well. While post house Pyramid has closed, some major new facilities are coming on stream. The first phase of the £330m Dragon International scheme (see facilities box) is due to open in May 2008.
Barcud Derwen, meanwhile, has around 120 staff in various businesses. Its subsidiary Omni recently negotiated a seven-year lease from ITV Wales to run its 7,500sq ft Cardiff studios. Omni also won two OB contracts from BBC Wales covering rugby and cultural events. It will take delivery of a £3.7m high-def OB truck early next year. “We’ve only been able to move forward because of the size and quality of the company,” says Barcud Derwen group managing director Bryn Roberts. “There’ll still be room for the boutique but there doesn’t seem to be much of that at the moment.”
There’s plenty of optimism in Wales, buoyed by the efforts of some dynamic producers, a supportive S4C and welcome investment in state-of-the-art facilities. A feeling persists, however, that when it comes to network commissions, talent in Wales is still too often overlooked.
Made in Wales
Doctor Who and its spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures represent BBC Wales’ resoundingly successful reinvention of a once tired sci-fi format.
Rivers and Life, Green Bay Media’s six one-hour HD docs on half a dozen of the world’s great rivers is funded by among others S4C and France 5.
Late Night Poker, made by RDF-owned Presentable and now in its sixth series on Channel 4.
Expedition: Alaska, Amazon with Bruce Parry, Everest ER and Coal House are among the high-profile recent commissions for relative newcomer Indus Films.
Boomerang makes extreme sports shows Freesports on 4 for Channel 4 and 360 degrees Surfing for Sky Sports. Radio credits include Free George Davies for BBC Radio 4 and Summer of Love for BBC Radio 2.
Hana’s Helpline, Calon’s agony aunt duck dispenses advice to kids watching Five.
Facilities in Wales
Billed as the largest facilities group outside London.
Cardiff-based TV post-production company bought by Boomerang this year.
OB units, studios, cameras.
Andy Dixon Facilities
Provides artiste trailers, mobile production offices and dining trailers.
Digital intermediate and restoration specialist, includes a grading theatre.
Bang Post Production
Soundtrack services from pre-production advice to overseeing final delivery.
The Pop Factory
TPF offers a range of studios, dubbing facilities, edit suites and DVD authoring.
Visual Impact Group
The Cardiff branch boasts a 2,000sq ft camera hire department, with post equipment available too.
Dragon International Studios
The first phase of this development -comprises four stand-alone film stages, each with adjoining production offices.