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‘Downton Abbey’ Could Get U.K. Tax Credit

Downton Abbey Cast - H 2012
PBS

Tax breaks for million dollar-plus budgeted TV shows likely to mirror system in place for U.K. movie production.

LONDON –  Oscar-winning scribe Julian Fellowes, creator and writer of Downton Abbey, is among the high profile voices hoping to see the British government take concrete steps towards introducing tax credits for high end TV drama production.

According to a report in The Guardian, chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce a consultation on the tax credit for “cinematic television dramas” in his budget speech on March 20.

The system – made available for TV drama costing £1 million ($1.57 million) and above – would likely be modelled on the tax credit system currently in place for movie productions basing themselves here.

It is understood the government’s Treasury department would consider the move to prevent British production companies upping sticks and going abroad to shoot high-end television dramas.

A slew of high-profile television work that ended up shooting on foreign-shores due to more a favorable tax climate includes the Fellowes penned Titanic, which he wrote for Downton commercial broadcaster ITV.  It sailed to Canada and Hungary to film.

Belgium provided the location Parade’s End, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Anna Skellern, despite it being about a young British aristocrat, his socialite wife and a suffragette set against the backdrop of WW1.

Backed by the BBC and HBO and written by Tom Stoppard from Ford Madox Ford’s novel, the production mostly shot in Belgium with some filming in England.

And Emmy-nominated drama Camelot, starring Joseph Fiennes, Jamie Campbell Bower and Tamsin Egerton drew swords in Ireland.

Any tax credit system mirroring the one in place for film would be worth tens of millions of dollars a year to production companies and help budget accordingly.

Osborne and the government believes such high-profile television  drama makes up a vital component in the list of British exports from both an economic and a cultural point of view.

The U.K. is the world's second largest exporter of drama series after the US in terms of programming hours.

It is estimated that the international sales of British television programmes generated £1.42 billion in 2010, up 13 percent on 2009.

As with the film credit, a drama series would have to pass a cultural test to prove it was a predominantly British work, in terms of actors and production staff, to qualify for the 25 percent discount on corporation tax but that does not exclude the use of overseas talent.

Fellowes, a Conservative peer, told The Guardian that “British TV is second to none but unfortunately, time and time again, great British programs are being made overseas where the tax climate is more favorable.”

He said if the Government looks to introduce such a credit system for drama it would be a “fantastic move forward for our industry and the country as a whole, as a host of new productions would undoubtedly be produced here. As they certainly should be."

Ireland currently offers tax relief on 28 percent of production costs. While Hungary and France make 20 percent available.