Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Last week, I was privileged to be in Los Angeles on St David’s Day for the unveiling of a posthumous star for Richard Burton on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It was an incredible day for all of us gathered on the other side of the World, culminating in the singing of the Welsh National Anthem as the star was finally unveiled by his daughter Maria following a passionate tribute from Michael Sheen.

But whilst the event was celebrating our greatest ever actor, it was also an opportunity for Wales to promote creative industries in the global centre for the entertainment industry, a sector that has shown considerable growth in the last few years.

Stretching across various industries including film, music, TV, and digital and entertainment media, the creative industries provide employment for more than 30,000 people in over 4,200 enterprises and generate over £1.8bn annual turnover.

During the period 2009-2011, the number of jobs in the creative industries increased by seventeen per cent in Wales, the largest percentage increase of any the priority sectors identified by Welsh Government.

And there are certainly opportunities to help grow the sector further, although it may not be in the film industry alone, despite the fact that Wales has recently been used as a location for major productions such as Harry Potter, the Dark Knight Rises, Snow White and the Huntsman, Captain America, Robin Hood and Clash of the Titans, generating millions of pounds for the local economy.

In fact, it seems that the growth of creative industries over the next few years will not be found in the cinema but in television, the movie industry’s once poor relation.

Last month, an article in the Economist suggested that the future of the entertainment industry is slowly moving away from films towards high value television production.

For example, the entertainment giant Time Warner has generated £8 billion from film in the last decade, a growth of 20 per cent. However, during the same period, its television revenues have increased by 84 per cent to £9 billion.

This is because television is seen as both stable and lucrative, with steady revenues from advertising which amount to around £21 billion per annum in the USA alone.

It has also been attracting serious talent and money for series such as 24, Lost, Homeland and the Walking Dead during the last decade. Indeed, the pilot episode of Sky Atlantic’s Boardwalk Empire cost £12 million and was directed by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese.

Given this, the Welsh Government is now focusing its efforts, as it did during various meetings prior to the Burton Star ceremony, in attracting more high-end television drama productions to Wales.

This task has been made slightly easier by the UK Government’s decision to grant tax relief on high-end television drama from this April. This will help to get television on the same footing as the existing Film Tax Relief scheme that has supported £5.5 billion of investment into 825 British films since 2007.

It is estimated that the new relief for high-end television drama could result in approximately £350m per year of additional investment in UK television drama production, boosting the UK economy by around £1bn.

Obviously the challenge for Wales is to get as much of this as possible and this is where devolution plays a key role, with the Welsh Government being able to offer flexible funding support for television production and property development and, through the Wales Screen Commission, provide information on locations, crew and costs that are approximately 20 percent less than in London.

Wales also has the advantage of being at the forefront of some of the best television series produced in the UK in recent years, such as Dr. Who, Torchwood and Sherlock. Not surprisingly, the former BBC Wales head of drama Julie Gardner, who brought Dr Who back to our screens eight years ago, has now been instrumental in bringing a major new series to Wales from Starz TV through her new role within BBC Worldwide.

Filmed around Swansea, Da Vinci’s Demons, based on the early life of Leonardo Da Vinci, is set to generate around £60m for the local economy and create over 160 permanent and 3,300 temporary jobs.

And as Courtney Conte, another of BBC Worldwide’s executives, told me at a dinner for television executives in Hollywood, it wasn’t only the stunning locations that were fantastic in Wales. He also said that the craftsmen and technicians on the series were amongst the best he had worked with in a career encompassing over 2,000 episodes of primetime television such as The Cosby Show, Roseanne, and 3rd Rock From the Sun.

Therefore, Wales is already making an impact in this growing part of the creative industries sector and, hopefully, through the new tax break and the work of the Welsh Government’s creative industries team, other high quality television productions will be attracted to Wales during the next few years with significant benefits for the economy.

Hopefully, this may result in a permanent presence in Los Angeles to further develop the links between Wales and the entertainment industry in the USA. Indeed, the real legacy of the Richard Burton star may not only be a place on the Walk of Fame but creating an opportunity to make Hollywood aware of the creative talent that still remains in Wales and which is as good as any to be found in the World.