Signalling how the UK television industry has become a truly “mixed ecology” of different players, investment in the creation of home-grown television programmes by multichannel broadcasters has hit £1.1 billion a year, according to a new report from industry body the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA).

The watershed moment is the first time annual investment in the production of UK television content by the multichannel sector has topped £1 billion, and underscores how newer channels are investing in domestic production as well as the traditional Public Service Broadcasters (BBC, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five).

The record levels of investment in home-grown UK content are revealed today in COBA’s 2019 Content Report, a major study conducted by Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates for COBA. The new report details investment in UK television shows by the multichannel broadcasting sector, which comprises hundreds of television channels ranging from household names to specialist services. They invest in a wide range of UK television programming, including high profile drama, entertainment and factual, news and children’s content.

Amongst the key findings are:

  • Multichannel broadcasters invested £1.1 billion in UK production in 2017 – the first time the multichannel sector’s spending on UK content has hit £1 billion.
  • Investment in UK content by multichannel broadcasters has grown by 75% on 2011, yielding an increase in annual investment by multichannel broadcasters of £416m. Investment in UK content by multichannel broadcasters has grown significantly faster than that of Public Service Broadcasters.
  • The majority of investment – £965m in 2017 – is on new (“first-run”) UK content.
  • The multichannel sector spent £447m in 2017 on commissions from external producers (independent producers, non-qualifying independents and co-pros). The remainder was invested in in-house production in such genres as news, sport and animation.
  • Those COBA members that are part of multinational media groups broadcast more than 21,000 hours of UK content across their portfolios of international channels in 2017. This gives UK creativity a global platform.

COBA’s chair Heather Jones said:

“This report signals the coming of age of the multi-channel TV industry. It is not just about the record levels of spend; it is also about creative competition and plurality, giving opportunities to a greater array of voices than ever before. Along with the thriving UK production sector, the biggest beneficiaries are UK viewers – who now have an even better and broader choice of excellent British TV shows to watch than ever before.” 

Adam Minns, COBA’s Executive Director, cautioned that investment should not be taken for granted, citing two specific threats to broadcasters’ ability to recoup on their investments via commercial revenue streams:

  • Advertising restrictions: The Government is set to consult on a proposed 9pm ban on HFSS advertising on television. This could have a damaging impact on the UK TV sector as a whole, potentially compounding a recent voluntary ban on gambling advertising by betting firms. Any further restrictions should be proportionate and avoid impacting programmes with negligible children’s audiences.
  • Prominence: Ofcom’s current review of the “prominence” regime for Public Service Broadcasters has set out proposals that could potentially damage revenues for other services that are displaced as a result of awarding PSBs further advantages. This could have a negative impact in many genres, notably in investment in UK children’s programming. Any additional advantages for PSB services should only be introduced if there is clear evidence that audiences are having difficulties finding PSB services, if the negative impact on other services is proportionate, and should come with commensurate PSB obligations and ensure that genuine PSB content such as news is readily available within PSB players.
  • Brexit: Uncertainty and potential disruption to operations as a result of Brexit, including the need for UK-based cross border channels to re-locate their broadcast licences to remaining Member States once the UK leaves the EU.

Adam Minns said:

“A successful mixed ecology of different types of players is a particular strength of the UK television sector and this game changing level of investment shows the benefits that come from that. But COBA members invest in UK programming without direct or indirect public support in the form of the licence fee, EPG prominence or privileged access to spectrum. Multichannel investment is directly linked to channels’ ability to generate a commercial return, notably via advertising and subscription revenues, and undermining that ability will inevitably make it harder for broadcasters to invest in content.”


Kauser Kanji has been working in online video for 19 years, formerly at Virgin Media, ITN and NBC Universal, and founded VOD Professional in 2011. He has since completed major OTT projects for, amongst others, A+E Networks, the BBC, BBC Studios, Channel 4, DR (Denmark), Liberty Global, Netflix, Sony Pictures, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and UKTV. He now writes industry analyses, hosts an online debate show, OTT Question Time, as well as its in-person sister event, OTT Question Time Live

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