Last week the historic Edinburgh TV festival took place. A variety of themes were discussed, from Louis Theroux’s examination surrounding the power and passion that TV can foster, to the detailed exploration of the streaming world’s big players. However, an unavoidable and relatively common theme discussed throughout the festival centred around the current freelance crisis. According to a survey from Bectu, almost 50% of freelancers in British television are currently out of work. There are several explanations for this crisis including the drop in the UK advertising market, the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strikes and a decline in the number of green-lit commissions. For all these reasons, the media industry is seeing a vast number of freelancers leaving the industry for more secure careers, which points towards further troubles. Bectu and other unions are concerned that the UK TV industry will face a shortage of freelancers when production ramps back up again.
The situation in the media sector is partly of its own making. The feast-or-famine nature of the industry, with its boom-and-bust cycles, has created an environment that is unsustainable for both workers and businesses. Freelancers constantly struggle to make ends meet, while companies are forced to lay off staff or cut corners when work dries up. During the festival, many panels discussed this very topic, with the conclusion that more needs to be done to tackle this crisis. Many companies have donated significant amounts of money to the Film & TV charity which does incredible work supporting those in the industry (from funding for further training to financial support) to help the struggling freelance community. However, the industry needs to come together and commit to long-term change. This means creating a more stable work environment, with guaranteed contracts and fair pay. It also means investing in training and development, so that the industry has the skills it needs to thrive in the future.