Pilots flying from Los Angeles

Canada, others fuel major drop with incentives

Blame Canada.

That seems to be the bottom-line message from a new FilmLA study detailing a five-year decline in Los Angeles-based production of TV pilots.

Production activity in general dropped 17% between the 2005 season and the just-concluded round of pilot shoots. But the number of pilots shot in the L.A. area slid 42% during the same period.

FilmLA, a nonprofit offering production permit services, said film incentives in other states and Canada lured more and more pilot productions over those years. Most recently, the main destination for such runaway production was north of the border, the group said.

"In the latest cycle, Canadian provinces emerged as Los Angeles' most powerful contender for pilot production business," FilmLA said in releasing its data.

The group also noted a steady flow of pilot production to the Big Apple.

"New York, as one of Los Angeles' strongest competitors, has claimed between eight and 11 pilots each year," FilmLA said.

A total 59 pilots were produced in the L.A. area in the most recent pilot season, 49 for broadcast and 10 for cable. That represented a 9% year-over-year drop from last year, when 65 pilots were produced in the area.

Notably, the year-over-year decline in pilot activity came despite an industrywide uptick this year, as pilot production rebounded after a dearth of activity because of the 100-day WGA strike that ran into 2008.

Canada marked a 25% year-over-year uptick in pilot production, with 15 in 2009. New York was flat, with 10 pilots.

"The fact that so many of this year's pilots chose to film outside the area shows that no facet of the entertainment industry can be considered captive in Los Angeles," FilmLA president Paul Audley said. "Use of alternative locations for pilot production will probably continue until we in California and Los Angeles collectively take steps to reassert our competitive advantages."

That probably will require a boosted program of production incentives, he added.

"We need to broaden this little crack in the door that California started this year with production incentives," Audley said. "The current incentives just don't reach enough of the industry."

The industrywide downturn in pilot activity reflects the spread of reality TV -- which often forgoes pilots -- as well as moves like NBC creating a Monday-Friday talk show for Jay Leno, which essentially removed a big chuck of programming from primetime.

FilmLA handles permits for on-location production, but its pilots study included data from soundstage and on-location activity.