Working in TV
About the TV Industry
The way we consume television has changed dramatically. Content can now be accessed anytime, anywhere on handheld devices and via paid-for subscription services. Particularly for younger viewers, the amount of TV they watch has been falling consistently since 2010. For anyone entering the TV industry now, it is important to understand the demands of a multi-platform environment and new media, as well as the increasing importance of social media. Employers are looking for new entrants who have grown up in a multi-platform environment and have insight into the way their peers watch TV.
The audience share is still dominated by the major broadcasters: BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky. Although you might think of a television show as having been produced by the BBC or ITV because that is where you watched it, most programmes are made by independent production companies (known as indies) and then sold to one of the channels.
Today broadcasters commission most of their content from the Indies. “Indie” means they’re independent from the broadcasters, but in reality the common names like Tiger Aspect (Peaky Blinders, Bad Education, Panorama and Dispatches); Company Pictures (Elizabeth, Shameless); Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks, The Only Way is Essex) and Kudos (Broadchurch, Utopia) are owned by larger companies like Endemol UK, All3Media and Shine Group.
Bigger companies tend to have the more glamorous work, like HBO’s Game of Thrones, but smaller companies can offer greater opportunities for creative ownership. Find out more about current and upcoming productions at the Production Guild.
There are six main genres of programme in television: news/current affairs, factual/factual entertainment, drama/comedy, children’s TV and high-end TV drama.
Most television programmes will start with an idea that is pitched to a Commissioning Editor at a channel. Largely these ideas will have been developed by an independent production company – most channels will not accept pitches from individuals. If the Commissioning Editor is interested in the idea then it will go into further development, in some cases with a budget to support that work. A small team, or maybe one person, will work on the idea to show that it is worth developing into a full length programme or series. This could involve doing further research, finding contributors or writing a script. When a programme ideal has final approval, it is ‘green lit’. This means that a production schedule and contract will be drawn up and the programme will go into production.
With more online channels and platforms there are more opportunities for content to be viewed, and, without the usual restrictions of the schedule to contend with and often cheaper production costs, there is more flexibility around what is commissioned.
Programmes of all genres may be filmed in studios. Studios will employ permanent and freelance staff who are responsible for negotiating contracts with incoming companies, organising production schedules, keeping facilities and equipment in good working order and looking after the production companies and talent who come to film there. Some of the big UK studios include The London Studios (Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeway), Fountain Studios (The X Factor), Pinewood (the James Bond films) and 3 Mills (Masterchef).
Once programmes have been filmed, either in a studio or on location, they go to post-production where the footage will be edited into the finished programme and any animation, visual effects and sound effects will be added. Have a look at the other sector overviews to find out more about working in animation and VFX.
Develop your skills
In addition to academic qualifications and training, employers are looking for skills and experience – they want to see what you can do. Don’t wait until you are qualified to begin building your portfolio, you can make showreels and develop a fan base through online sharing sites like YouTube or Vimeo. You can pull content from all of your channels together by creating a profile on Hiive, the professional network for creative people.
One of the main things people working in TV will tell you is in order to get into the industry, it is essential to watch a lot of TV! When you do, watch television with a critical eye – consider what you like, what you would change and what kind of programmes you would like to be involved in making.
Out of school activities offer opportunities to develop and showcase your skills. If you want to find out more about working in television, have a look at the resources and support offered by So You Wanna Work in TV. You could also think about visiting Sky Academy which has a Careers Lab and a Skills Studio that give you a look behind-the-scenes. For these opportunities and more, have a look at our list of useful links.
Facts and Figures
The UK’s television sector is stronger than ever, producing over 27,000 hours of content each year that is loved all over the world. UK television is responsible for some of the most iconic and ground-breaking television viewed around the world. From The X-Factor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire to scripted dramas like Sherlock and Downton Abbey, the UK’s original programming has become must-see viewing from China to Chile.
The independent (indie) production sector – TV made outside broadcaster networks like the BBC or Channel 4 – is now worth more than £3 billion in revenue with exports accounting for £1.2 billion. No other country exports more TV than the UK.
In just 10 years, independent TV production has grown from a cottage industry to a world-beating multi-billion pound sector and has become expert in selling UK shows to new markets.