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HMRC internal manual

Television Production Company Manual

Overview and general definitions: meaning of 'television programme'

S1216AA, S1216BA Corporation Tax Act 2009 (CTA 2009)

A television programme is defined as:

‘…any programme (with or without sounds) which

  1. is produced to be seen on television, and
  2. consists of moving or still images or of legible text or of a combination of those things’

For the purposes of the definition of a television programme, ‘television’ includes the internet.

A series of television programmes is regarded as a single programme provided it is commissioned under a single agreement. This means that only one deemed trade is required for each agreement, even if it covers a number of episodes.

Relevant programmes

There are five conditions for a television programme to be considered a ‘relevant programme’. These are that:

  • the programme is a drama, documentary or animation,
  • the programme is not an excluded programme,
  • the slot length of the programme is greater than 30 minutes, and
  • the average core expenditure per hour of slot length is not less than £1m.
  • From 1April 2015 a programme which is a Children’s programme

Where the programme is an ‘animation’ or ‘Children’s programme’, conditions three and four do not apply. Television Tax Relief (TTR) specifically for animations is dealt with in the APC manual. See APC10100. A children’s programme is one where the primary audience will be under 15 years of age.

A ‘drama’ is a programme that:

  • consists wholly or mainly of a depiction of events,
  • events are depicted wholly or mainly by one or more persons performing, and
  • the whole or majority of the performances involves the playing of a role, whether by speech, acting, singing or dancing.

Dramas may be based on fictional events, or non-fictional events.

The term ‘documentary’ is not defined in the legislation and so it is given its common meaning. A documentary is a non-fictional programme that attempts to document actual events in a factual and objective manner.

Where a programme is a ‘docu-drama’ it is possible that a programme may be both a documentary and a drama. A programme need only fall into one of these categories to meet the criterion so care is only needed over this question where it may appear to be neither a drama nor a documentary.

This might be the case where the programme does not contain sufficient dramatic scenes to constitute a drama, but the content of the programme does not attempt to be objective or factual.

It is unlikely that a programme will not constitute a drama or documentary unless it contains elements of non-drama. These will typically be excluded programmes in their own right as detailed below. It may therefore be beneficial to consider whether they constitute an excluded programme first.

Excluded programmes

The legislation requires that a programme is not an excluded programme. These are listed in the legislation (S1216AD CTA 2009) as:

  • advertisements or other promotional material
  • news or current affairs programmes or discussion programmes
  • any quiz show, game show, panel show, variety show, chat show or similar entertainment
  • a programme that consists of or includes a competition or contest or announces the results of a competition or contest
  • a children’s programme may consist of a or include a competition or contest as long as the total prizes do not exceed £1,000
  • any broadcast of live events or of theatrical or artistic performance given otherwise than for the purpose of being filmed
  • any programme produced for training purposes

These categories include many types of programme which might be argued as being documentary or drama but which are not intended recipients of Television Tax Relief (TTR).

For example, a routine production at the theatre which is simply recorded for broadcast is not intended to benefit from TTR because it is not primarily a television production. Likewise, records of sporting events might be considered to be documentary in some circumstances but are also not intended to benefit from TTR.

For documentaries concerned with the performing arts and sports, it might be that elements of theatrical production or live events are used to document events or illustrate individuals’ actions. However, it will be a question of fact how footage is used, whether as documentary or otherwise.

Slot length

The third condition that a television programme which is not an animation must meet is that the slot length which the programme is commissioned to fill must be greater than 30 minutes.

This means that programmes that are of a typical half an hour slot length will not qualify. High-end television productions predominantly last longer than this typical slot.

There will typically be no ambiguity over the commissioned slot length. This will be a matter of fact that can be determined by the contract and the actual slot length when the programme is broadcast.

The slot length is determined by the commissioning broadcaster and it does include time allocated to advertising. The length of the programme will therefore typically be shorter than the allocated slot time.

There is, however, no set minimum amount of time for actual time. There are restrictions in the UK, the EU and most countries on the maximum permissible length of time that can be devoted to advertising.

Core expenditure

The core expenditure for a television programme which is not an animation must be no less than £1m per hour. It is not necessary that this is UK expenditure.

Core expenditure consists of:

  • pre-production,
  • principal photography, and
  • post-production.

Core expenditure does not include development expenditure or expenditure on marketing, distribution or other non-production activities.