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Industry unites to launch new fund and transform investment in training for unscripted TV

Apr 15, 2021

A new fund which will address skills gaps and shortages in unscripted television across the UK and build a bigger pool of off-screen crew and talent in the nations and regions is announced by ScreenSkills with broadcasters, SVoDs and Pact.

The new Unscripted TV Skills Fund will invest matched contributions from broadcasters and productions to address skills shortages, build a more inclusive workforce and future-proof the industry in a move designed to benefit all unscripted production.

  • New fund will address skills shortages and inclusion including boosting training in nations and regions
  • Plans aim to increase training investment from £370,000 to £3 million a year
  • Partners at launch are: ScreenSkills, Pact, BBC, Channel 4, Sky, A+E Networks UK and Discovery UK
  • Founding investors BBC and Channel 4 have pledged significant upfront investment to kickstart a successful launch and will approve prioritisation of that investment
  • Pact backs the fund, saying indies are committed to future-proofing the industry
  • Indies to benefit from bigger pool of inclusive talent and crew in shortage areas
  • Freelancers to be supported with free slate of short courses including in areas of industry concern such as mental health and leadership and management
  • Investment priorities and decisions to be made by production companies through working groups with at least half of members from companies outside London

The BBC and Channel 4 are recognised as founding investors, having provided significant upfront investment for the first two years to enable the fund to launch successfully and to kickstart training activities and interventions right from the beginning. The BBC and Channel 4 will have approval on the prioritisation of the training supported by this transitional funding. Both supported training for unscripted TV for many years through the existing TV Skills Fund.

A number of broadcasters have also contributed significantly to the development of the fund and are signing up to the principles from the start. The founding partners are Sky, A+E Networks UK and Discovery UK along with the BBC and Channel 4.

Pact has been on board from the outset and taken part in the consultations over addressing concerns at the availability of a skilled workforce. Talks across industry have taken place for more than three years.

The benefit to producers should be a stronger supply of trained professionals in key shortage roles across areas including production management, development, self-shooting skills and post-production.  Freelancers working in all genres of unscripted TV will benefit from a rolling slate of short courses.

A minimum of 50% of the fund will be invested to support training beneficiaries based in the nations and regions, rising to 100% in specific shortage areas. The BBC and Channel 4 have asked for 100% of their broadcaster investment to be made outside of London to support skills gaps in the nations and regions, which means it will be much higher. BBC Studios has requested that 75% of its contribution be invested outside London.

Half of the membership of the council and of working groups will come from out of London and a minimum of 50% of the spend on training providers will go to out of London trainers.

A minimum of 50% of beneficiaries will meet at least one industry-recognised diversity and inclusion target.

The Unscripted TV Skills Fund will supersede the existing ScreenSkills TV Skills Fund, which has relied on broadcaster contributions alone, and the Indie Training Fund, which has been supported by indie contributions. Expertise from both funds will be absorbed into the new one.

Contributions to ScreenSkills for investment in training for roles in unscripted television have fallen in recent years in comparison with parts of the screen industries that benefit from tax relief, such as high-end TV.

Financial modelling indicated the fund could raise in the region of £3 million a year by 2024 against contributions of around £370,000 to the existing TV Skills Fund. This timeline may be affected by the pandemic and will depend on the commitment across the whole of industry.

Contributions will be shared between production companies and broadcasters/SVoDs. Production contributions will be due when a programme is delivered and will only relate to productions commissioned after the official launch of the fund on 1 June.

Seetha Kumar, CEO, ScreenSkills, said: “The new Unscripted TV Skills Fund sees the industry acting collectively and strategically to address acknowledged skills shortages and to achieve access, and effective progression of an inclusive workforce. This is the right thing to do if we are to walk the walk on equal access for crew and talent to support production in all parts of the UK and maintain the standards of excellence for which we are world-renowned.”

Richard Johnston, ScreenSkills chair and former CEO Endemol Shine UK, said: “Establishing a properly financed fund that enables our world-leading non-scripted TV industry to take a long-term, strategic and coordinated approach to skills and inclusion has been a personal mission for the last three years, and I couldn’t be more delighted that we’re finally launching. Huge thanks go to BBC, Channel 4 and Pact for getting behind this from the start and showing what the industry can achieve when we work together.”

John McVay, CEO, Pact, said: “Pact has spent the past few years driving this strategy to invest in the future skills of the unscripted sector and welcomes the launch of the fund by ScreenSkills today.

“Indies recognise the importance of future-proofing the industry and are committed to playing their part to invest in training and to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in TV, particularly in the nations and regions.”

Charlotte Moore, chief content officer, BBC, said: “We are delighted to be a founding investor and partner in this fund – with its critical focus on strengthening skills in the nations and English regions and improving off-screen diversity. Both are really important parts of our mission to strengthen the creative economy right across the UK. It is great that companies from all four nations will have a seat at the table to determine how the fund is spent.”

Sinead Rocks, managing director, nations and regions, Channel 4, said: “We are proud to be founding investors and partners in the Unscripted TV Skills Fund; working collaboratively with ScreenSkills, Pact, the BBC and other broadcasters to supercharge training and development. We are particularly focused on addressing skills gaps in the nations and regions and believe this fund will really help support our aims.”

Zai Bennett, managing director, content, Sky UK, said: “The freelance nature of TV production means that cross-industry schemes like this are important to support people in developing their skills and to provide new opportunities for people who are under-represented. We look forward to working with all the partners involved to drive real change across the industry.”

Heather Jones, general manager UK, SVP content and creative, EMEA, A+E Networks UK, said: “A+E Networks UK is committed to developing a diverse and inclusive workforce as well as commissioning production teams that better represent our audiences right across the UK. We’re delighted to be partnering with ScreenSkills on the launch of their Unscripted TV Skills Fund: an initiative that will provide opportunities for people from all walks of life to start and develop a career in TV production. This is an important moment for our industry, as we strive to create a workforce in which everyone can belong and thrive. Congratulations to Seetha and team for making this happen.”

James Gibbons, EVP, GM UK & Nordics at Discovery, said: “We are delighted to stand alongside partners like Sky and Channel 4 in building a more skilled and inclusive workforce through ScreenSkills’ Unscripted TV Skills Fund. The launch of our real-life streaming service discovery+ has seen our commissioning output significantly increase and we’re more committed than ever to investing in Britain’s world-class unscripted TV professionals.”

Tom Fussell, Interim CEO, BBC Studios, said: “BBC Studios is proud to support the new ScreenSkills Unscripted TV Fund. We look forward to collaborating with ScreenSkills to achieve the fund’s aims of a more diverse and inclusive TV industry and in building further the industry skills across the nations and regions of the UK.”

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