London and the UK’s global role within the media industry

Kelcie Sellers, Analyst at Savills, considers the impact of COVID-19 on London’s media and film industries, and the importance of  the creative sectors as a whole in driving a knowledge-based economy. 

London is an established media city with a global reputation for its arts and culture. The city ranks third in the Savills Media Cities index (first introduced in 2006), behind Los Angeles and New York City, given its depth of creative talent, a large demand for entertainment, and a robust set of government incentives for the media industry.

In 2019, the film industry generated £1.3 billion of inward investment in London according to industry body Film London. However, the arts sectors have been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In response, the UK Government has set aside a £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to aid the arts and culture sector until audiences are able to return en masse.

Encouragingly, filming for television and feature films has resumed in London following the first coronavirus lockdown. Though production was paused, investment into the film industry continued, particularly into studio spaces. The ever-increasing prominence of streaming and increased demand for content from viewers are driving the need for more studio space, both in London and elsewhere. Both Pinewood and Shepperton studios are expanding their footprints to be able to meet increased demand for production space. Barking and Dagenham Council agreed a £300 million deal in October to build a studio in east London that is expected to open in 2022, and Blackhall Studios announced plans for a £150 million production complex in Reading earlier in 2020. Deals for studio space are likely to continue as demand appears to be continuing unabated.

Though film and television production has been limited by Covid-19 restrictions, the production of music has been significantly less affected by the pandemic. Using relatively inexpensive equipment and computer programmes, artists are able to record and produce music at home, all without having to book studio time. That said, there is still demand for specialist recording studios and spaces which, while suffering during Covid-19, have a long-term future. Streaming services have made dissemination of music easy during the pandemic. However, live performances of music – a crucial part of the sector – continue to be limited or prohibited in London and across the UK, depending on regional tier restrictions. In the past, sales of albums and other royalties made up a large proportion of artists’ incomes, but now touring provides the largest share of income for most musicians. For many, a lack of live performances because of the pandemic has severely limited their earnings.

Outside of London, production of film, television, and music are growing, bringing economic growth and jobs to the UK’s regions. The Manchester region in particular has benefitted from this growth. Salford is the location of the MediaCityUK, and home of many of the BBC’s non-London operations. Filming on location is also increasing outside of London. Birmingham provides site locations for Peaky Blinders, large parts of Sex Education are filmed in Wales for Netflix, and the city council in Liverpool has recently submitted a planning application to create the city’s first “pop-up” TV and film stages.

Looking forward, increased investment in the media industries in London and in the wider UK will only continue to boost the British economy and its reputation as a centre for media, arts, and culture on the world stage.