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U.K. Broadcasters ITV, BSkyB Told To Do More for British Film

Maggie Smith Elizabeth McGovern Downton Abbey - H 2012

UPDATED: Film Policy Review Group publishes 56 steers for the industry's future; continued Hollywood investment of utmost importance.

Commercial broadcaster ITV, the home to Golden Globe winner Downton Abbey, and pay tv satcaster BSkyB were singled out as not doing enough for British film in the long-anticipated Film Policy Review Group report.

The two major broadcasters came under fire Monday as the report, containing a whopping 56 recommendations for the British government to digest after taking more than 300 submissions from the industry here, was finally released.

The report called for the duo, along with other broadcasters, "to invest more in the screening, acquisitions and production of British independent British."

While noting that both the BBC and Channel 4 -- both have standalone film-making units -- were actively adding to the British film industry's output regularly, report chairman Chris Smith said both ITV and BSkyB should look to do more.

"All broadcasters should be investing in British independent production and pulling together acquisitions policies for such movies to show on their channels," Smith said.

He noted it was vital because stats show that 80 percent of movies are watched on television here in the U.K. so presenting British audiences with more homegrown films fitted with the report's desire to keep audience needs at the forefront of its recommendations.

BSkyB was quick to react, pointing to its own efforts to invest more in homegrown original content.

“Unlike those public service broadcasters who receive public money for the purposes of investing in UK content, Sky needs a clear and sustainable commercial rationale to do so,” a BSkyB spokesman said in a statement.  “With that in mind, the fact that home-grown content is so appealing to our customers explains why we are investing more money in the UK's creative economy than at any point in our history.”

The satcaster also pointed to its output deals for movies across the board and how most are driven by Sky’s ambitions to feed audience needs.

The U.K. Film Policy Review group -- chaired by former culture secretary Smith with names including producer Iain Smith, Oscar winner Julian Fellowes and Big Talk managing director Matthew Justice, launched the 100-plus page report first to the press and then the industry Monday.

Among other recommendations came the suggestion that producers and distributors work hand-in-hand from the get-go to come up with financing and decision making on what films get made and why.

The report also suggested that lottery funding recoupment for producers be revamped and that the British Film Institute, the body now tasked with dishing out such funding, acts as a gatekeeper for any returns on its lottery funding and be allowed to roll it over and reinvest it with the same producers on subsequent projects.

The report also re-iterated the need to keep attracting inward investment in film from the Hollywood studios and beyond as one of two pillars on which to build any U.K. film policy.

British Film Commission and Film London chief executive Adrian Wootton, whose organizations bestride the tasks of keeping the U.K. a destination of choice for Hollywood, said he was “delighted to see the report recognises the important work of the British Film Commission in attracting inward investment films to the UK and firmly recommends that this should be sustained and developed.”

Added Wootton: “And with regards to international strategy, I believe this is an area with much scope for growth and I relish the opportunity to work with our partners the BFI and the industry to drive it forward.”

BFC chairman, review group member and producer Smith put it bluntly. “Quite simply the U.K.’s highly skilled film-making talent represent some of the best in the business; they are one of the UK’s greatest assets and something we must value and ensure we support and maintain,” Smith said.

Recent big budget production spends including War Horse and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the upcoming releases The Dark Knight Rises and World War Z has seen production spend from inward investment films in the U.K. deliver almost £1 billion ($1.6 billion) per annum for the economy in recent years.

David Puttnam, president of the U.K.'s Film Distributors’ Association, also welcomed the report’s findings on distribution strategy.

“The audience is clearly at the heart of the review and we welcome the key strategic recommendation that the BFI should balance the needs of distribution with those of production when prioritising the investment of Lottery funding for initiatives such as the proposed Joint Venture Fund, and the R&D Fund for digital innovation,” Puttnam said.

Trade bodies PACT, Directors UK and WGGB – under The Filmmakers’ Alliance – warned that much of the work is yet to be done, now that the review has been published.

“Much work is now needed – this is a transformational point and will require all stakeholders to be prepared to think creatively and radically about how to shape the future,” the organizations repping producers, directors and writers said in a statement.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey, on hand at the launch, said the government would spend the next two months or so digesting the myriad recommendations before "adopting or rejecting" the issues raised with regard to policy making.