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TV Pilot Production Increases as California Loses Market Share: Study

Paul Audley Headshot - P 2013
Courtesy of Subject
Paul Audley

UPDATED: “The scary thing for the Los Angeles region is we continue to lose ground in our share of work to other states and countries," Film L.A. president Paul Audley says.

More TV pilots than ever are being made, while production continues to spread to more places, according to an annual survey by Film L.A.

There were 186 pilots shot for broadcast and cable TV during the 2012-13 development cycle (January through April) -- the most ever. 

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Of those, 96 were shot in L.A., the second-largest tally in history. From Jan. 1 to June 10, permitted production days for pilots were up almost 40 percent compared to last year.

The bad news, however, is that L.A.’s share of the market fell to 52 percent, the second-lowest on record, down from 82 percent in 2006-07.

“The scary thing for the Los Angeles region,” says Paul Audley, president of Film L.A., ”is we continue to lose ground in our share of work to other states and countries.”

Drama pilots in particular went elsewhere. L.A. had 83 percent of comedy pilots (down from 91 percent last year) but only 22 percent of drama pilots (down from 28 percent last year and 63 percent in 2006-07).

“Comedy has traditionally stuck around Los Angeles,” says Audley, “because the turnaround time on writing for comedy is so short. They are writing up to the time of filming frequently, while dramas have a greater lead time. Comedies are also less expensive to shoot, so the incentives don’t have as much impact.”

The average cost for a half-hour comedy pilot is $2 million, according to the study, while a drama costs $5.5 million for an hour.

Film L.A. estimates that about $277.8 million was spent on TV pilot production in Los Angeles during the most recent development cycle, up from $262 million last year. That is about 39 percent of the total spent by all producers in all locations. In the same period last year, L.A. collected about 40 percent of the spend.

“Drama producers use incentives to offset the increased cost of long-distance production,” says the study, “while affording higher-end production values. Often this means financial concerns trump creative concerns when deciding where to shoot.”

During the past three pilot seasons, drama pilots were filmed outside L.A. by a ratio of more than 2-to-1. In the 2012-13 cycle, the ratio was closer to 4-to-1.

“Dramas are highly lucrative,” adds Audley. “States are fighting to get those television dramas and keep them. We continue to lose ground substantially in that area.”

After L.A. (96 pilots) the top production locations were New York (19), Vancouver (15), Atlanta (nine) and Toronto (six), followed by Chicago and New Orleans (five each). All offer greater production incentives than California.

This marks a surge for Atlanta, which passed Toronto for the first time thanks to Georgia’s generous tax incentives, new studio facilities, efforts to train crews and the growing activity of Tyler Perry.

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“Atlanta sees itself as a future production center and is really working hard to entice [productions] with money and new facilities,” says Audley. “They have been successful this year.”

One consideration, says the study, is where the comedy or drama is supposed to be set. While L.A. often subs for other places, New York and Chicago mostly play themselves. New York is often used in place of Washington, D.C.

Digital distributors like Netflix and Amazon represent a small but growing part of the total. One difference is that like many cable TV networks, the emerging digital players create pilots throughout the year.

There are real consequences to these location shifts as shown by an additional study done by Film L.A., which analyzed new and continuing pickups of series on broadcast networks during primetime for 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14.  

At the beginning of the 2012-13 season, there were 47 L.A.-based shows on broadcast (18 dramas, 29 comedies). There also were 24 shows shot elsewhere (23 dramas, one comedy). “Last year,” says the study, “marked the first time during Film L.A.’s ongoing study in which L.A. accounted for less than 50 percent of network screen time devoted to primetime scripted drama.”

Audley is frustrated by the California incentive plan, which serves up $100 million annually but does not come close to meeting the demand. That law, he notes, does not even include incentives for broadcast network or premium cable series – unless they are returning to the state after shooting elsewhere for at least one full season.

He says California is shortsighted and as a result is losing one of its most important industries.

“If the pilots go, that means the shows will also go elsewhere,” says Audley, “and that’s tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars being spent outside of California.”

Film L.A. is a nonprofit organization that coordinates permits for filmed entertainment shot on location in Los Angeles and L.A. County.