Pilot production in North America declining

Ontario and B.C. weren't immune to the decline in new pilots, which hit a four-year low across the continent.

LosAngeles-downtown-flickr David Jones-1Shifts in the TV landscape are reducing the amount of pilot production in North America, including in British Columbia and Ontario, according to a study from FilmL.A.

The report indicated that 173 broadcast, cable and digital pilots (109 dramas, 64 comedies) were filmed across North America during the 2016/17 pilot production cycle. That’s down by 28 projects (14%) from the previous year and is the first time in four years that fewer than 200 pilots have been produced in North America. For the purpose of the study, a pilot was considered either as a straight-to-series order (of which there were 65) or the production of a pilot episode (108).

Virtually all the major jurisdictions hosted fewer pilot productions in 2016/17, with B.C. dipping to 21, compared with 25 the previous year, and Ontario falling to 10, from 12 last year. California meanwhile dropped to 68, compared to 79 in 2015/16. The only jurisdictions to increase were Louisiana, which hosted five pilots, compared to two last year, and New Mexico, which hosted six, compared with four the previous year.

One possible explanation for the decline offered by the report is that there are a greater number of continuing series in production currently, therefore decreasing the demand for pilot episodes because networks already have full programming slates. As well, the report pointed to a fast-rising proportion of pilots from digital outlets (such as Netflix and Amazon) over the past six years. Between 2011 and 2016, the share of pilot activity from digital networks went from less than 1% up to 19%. This number stalled in the most recent development cycle, with digital outlets accounting for 18% of pilot production. Netflix led the way with 14 pilots, followed by Amazon (seven pilots), DirectTV (five pilots), Hulu (four pilots) and CBS All Access (two pilots).

The proportion of pilot productions hosted by L.A. stayed at 39% for 2016/17, though that percentage has tumbled since 2006/07 when the state hosted 82% of all pilot production in North America.

While the report said that the decrease in L.A.’s pilot count was concerning, the study also indicated that, in terms of full-series production, the Golden State is more than holding its own. FilmL.A. estimated that 426 live-action scripted TV series will be produced by U.S. studios for the 2017/18 season, with 173 of those shooting in California. By comparison, New York is in second place with 52, followed by B.C. (35), Ontario (29), Georgia (29), the U.K. (21) and Illinois (10).