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Study: U.K. Studio Facilities Must Invest and Expand to Stay Competitive

Pinewood Studios - H 2012
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A new report, commissioned by Pinewood Studios and Creative England, indicates that as budgets and production values increase, TV requires larger and more sophisticated studios.

LONDON – U.K. studio facilities operator Pinewood Studios, the home to Hollywood-backed movies such as  Angelina Jolie's Maleficent, is finalizing plans for another attempt to garner planning permission to expand its site and operational scope.

The facility, located on the outskirts of London, commissioned a fresh report from accountancy and consultancy giants PwC with the support of Creative England, in efforts to add some fresh meat to its argument for the need for expansion to keep it competitive.

The report, called UK screen based industries: Powering Ahead, indicates that British facilities face the prospect of being victims of their own success.

Facilities such as Pinewood, Shepperton, Elstree and Warner Bros' Leavesden studios are straining to accommodate the demands put on their capacity by Hollywood-backed tentpoles shooting here.

Published Monday evening, the report indicates that factors helping to keep inward investment levels in the U.K. healthy – such as money flowing from overseas to make film and TV here – include the tax credit system, the skilled technicians and behind-the-lens crews and the British capital as a destination for talent.

It notes that as budgets and production values increase, TV requires larger and more sophisticated studios to shoot on British shores.

Pinewood is now pushing to revisit expansion plans after its proposals to build new stages and homes for creatives in what was dubbed Project Pinewood in 2012 were rejected by the local planning inspector.

Pinewood Shepperton is working on a more straightforward pitch focused on new stages and production offices, which will "significantly" expand U.K. production capacity.

Pinewood chief executive Ivan Dunleavy said: "This market analysis from PWC helps demonstrate that the U.K. needs to increase capacity if it is to capitalize on the predicted growth on offer in the screen-based industries. Inward investment continues to flow into the U.K. to take advantage of our facilities, talent, skills and technology but we need to grow to help accommodate it."

At the launch of the report, British regional funding giant Creative England chief executive Caroline Norbury said: "This timely report addresses a number of the key issues we simply must address if we are to maintain and grow the U.K.’s creative industries. The key is to ‘grow our own.'"

Norbury also noted the U.K. industry needs to "up-our-game in terms of digital infrastructure too – U.K. businesses cannot compete without major improvements to broadband."

U.K. government minister for culture, communications and creative industries Ed Vaizey said the government was committed to investing in the broadband infrastructure in the U.K., something that would help keep the facilities and companies operating in the film and TV industries competitive.

He also noted the multi-million dollar investments being made into broadband networks by both British Telecom and Virgin Media.

Norbury also told the gathering there needs to be a sea change in attitude from potential investors looking to the creative sector.

"We must retain our intellectual property and learn to build big creative businesses founded on our big creative ideas. We need to remember that SMEs [small medium enterprises] are the key drivers for future economic growth. Finally we need to remember that innovation is the key to remaining competitive, both structurally within businesses – and with the products and services we produce."

PwC media partner Nick George said the report shows there is strong consumer appetite for film, TV and video games describing such screen-based media as "a key part of the media sector, with robust fundamentals, despite the changes in the media landscape brought on by digital."

In 2011, U.K. stages were at full capacity, so productions went overseas.

In a globally competitive market, Pinewood Shepperton is finalizing its expansion plans with an eye on current and predicted capacity needs as the U.K. government is planning to launch incentives next year for high-end TV and animation projects.