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COVID-19: TV production guidance announced

20 May 2020

Pact (the Producers Alliance for Cinema and TV) published its TV industry guidelines for producing television in line with the UK Government’s recent “COVID-19 Secure Guidelines” on Monday 18 May 2020.

The full guidelines can be found here.

Background

Pact’s guidelines have been developed together with the UK broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Sky Channel 4, Channel 5, STV, ITN and the Association for Commercial Broadcasters and On-demand services (COBA) – to give producers guidance on what measures they should implement to make production sets and workplaces safe and compliant with the Government’s COVID-19 Secure Guidelines and existing legislation, in order to enable the TV production industry to ‘get back to work.’

The Pact guidelines are intended to apply to a broad range and scale of programme-making across all genres of the UK TV industry, though separate guidance is due to be released by the British Film Commission for the production of film and high-end TV drama production.

In its introductory notes, Pact comments that whilst TV production is not specifically required to stop under the Coronavirus legislation, general restrictions require people to stay at home and only leave to work if it cannot be done from home. Since the production of TV cannot wholly be achieved by working from home, Pact’s view is that health and safety measures, and risk assessments need to be applied to manage the COVID-19 risk for those returning to work.

What the Pact guidelines cover

Without detailing Pact’s guidelines in full, a couple of key headline recommendations include the below:

  1. Specifically consider people at higher risk of harm
  2. Heighten precautions for everyone at work
  3. Reduce the number of people involved
  4. Consider editorial ‘on camera’ requirements
  5. Consider mental health and wellbeing
  6. Feedback loop (this relates to ensuring there is ongoing reporting of any shortfalls in the processes above to facilitate effective improvement).

The Pact guidelines also set out key areas to consider and controls.

These are:

  1. Travel
  2. Location
  3. Work activities
  4. Work equipment
  5. Work patterns
  6. Rest areas
  7. First aid and emergency services
  8. Masks, gloves and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  9. Mental health

Each of these areas have been broken down into three sub-sections: physical, planning and people (with specific measures and guidance being given for each of these three sub-sections, as they relate to the relevant key area).

What does this mean for the industry?

Whilst the Pact guidelines should help get smaller productions back on track, it seems likely that it will be much more difficult for the studios and streamers, which operate at a much larger scale and with many more people engaged on their productions, to meet the rigorous requirements set out.

For all producers, regardless of size, implementing the measures contained in the Pact guidelines will be extremely costly and it is currently unclear how this expense will be borne. This is a real issue since insurers are currently refusing to cover COVID-19 risks.

Pact is calling on the Government to set up an initiative similar to that in France where there is a state-backed fund for productions that are unable to get insurance cover because of COVID-19 and its risks. Unless that is achieved, the financial burden on producers to make their sets safe could be a real blocker and will impact what type and level of production is achievable owing to the overall increased costs of production, which may or may not be met by broadcasters.

For now, at least, it seems that the breaks are largely still on for UK TV productions as the industry navigates the uncertain landscape ahead.

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