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U.K. Government Touts Tax Relief for High-End TV Shows

Game of Thrones Emilia Clarke - H 2013
HBO

Britain's finance and culture ministers say they hope to lure in more big TV productions like "Game of Thrones" with the new tax credit system.

LONDON – The launch of the U.K. creative sector's tax credit system for high-end television, animation and gaming got two government ministers for the price of one at an event in central London Monday.

George Osborne, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer -- the equivalent of other nations' finance minister or treasury secretary -- and culture, communications and creative industries minister Ed Vaizey both rocked up at BAFTA's London HQ to talk up the tax breaks.

At the event hosted by the British Film Commission, Osborne described the U.K.'s creative industries as "one of the jewels in Britain’s crown."

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He said the introduction of the tax credit system -- which allows producers to budget in a tax break on qualifying U.K. expenditures and aims to persuade big budget TV projects to shoot here -- stems from the government's industrial strategy "to identify Britain’s strengths and reinforce them, so that Britain can compete in the modern global economy."

Vaizey heralded the U.K.’s creative industries as a real success story worth more than $56 billion (£36 billion) a year.

"We know that the television and animation sectors make a real difference to the U.K. economy and these new tax reliefs will be instrumental in expanding our potential," he said. "Together with the investments in training and development we are making, British companies will grow and build on their already impressive international reputation."

The event gave the invitation-only industry crowd an overview of the tax reliefs and their potential impact on the U.K. high-end television, animation and games industries.

A session focusing on high-end television included a case study of HBO’s Game of Thrones which has just been renewed for its fourth season and will continue to shoot in Northern Ireland.

Jay Roewe, svp production for HBO in the U.S., and Northern Ireland Screen CEO Richard Williams gave an overview of the working partnership between the TV creators and the funding body.

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The morning also included a walkthrough of the value and application of the new tax relief and its qualifying criteria, which will be overseen by the British Film Institute’s Certification Unit.

The cultural tests for the new sectors are based on the cultural test for film, a system administered by the BFI’s Certification Unit since 2007. This is the first stage of the application process in accessing the tax relief.

Prior to Monday's government endorsement of the industry, the BFC visited both L.A. and New York City earlier in April to make presentations to U.S .studios, broadcasters, producers and agents. The group also attended MIP TV in Cannes to promote the new incentive.

Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission and Film London described the tax credits as "a game-changing measure," saying the launch Monday is "another key step in raising awareness."

Iain Smith, a familiar name to Hollywood studio-backed productions based in the U.K., wore his hat as producer and BFC chair at the event.

Smith's resume of Hollywood-backed productions includes The A-Team, starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel, and the Clive Owen-starrer Children of Men. He said the system is a must because of "unprecedented international competition."

"We must continue to fight rigorously to maintain our position as a leading center of production," he added.

Roewe said: "For us [at HBO], this new measure for television launched today will make filming in the U.K. an even more viable proposition."

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U.K .Trade & Investment CEO Nick Baird said: "We’ve all seen the benefit of inward investment, specifically from the U.S., through big budget film and high-end television productions coming to the U.K. and their positive impact on employment, skills and infrastructure. It’s a sector with huge potential, not just restricted to London and the South East, but across the whole of the U.K."

BFI CEO Amanda Nevill also forcefully argued for such tax measures.

"With the film industry outperforming the economy as a whole, the film tax relief has proven how valuable it is in driving industry growth both through inward investment and home grown production," Nevill said.

"These new tax reliefs are a huge shot in the arm for the burgeoning creative sectors and vital in bringing new opportunities for the development of high value skills and employment and creative excellence of future generations," she added.