The Los Angeles area is losing its grip on TV pilot production, with New York, Vancouver and Atlanta all siphoning projects away this year, according to a report by FilmLA.
Just 52 percent of the shows produced this year in hopes of landing slots on network cable schedules were shot in L.A., the report said. That's down from 61 percent last year, barely better than the all-time low of 51 percent hit in 2011, and a far cry from the peak 82 percent level of 2007.
Ninety-six of the 186 pilots produced during the most recent season were filmed in the L.A. area, according to the not-for-profit group that coordinates permits for film and TV productions. And of the 90 pilots shot outside the area, 75 were one-hour drama projects, coveted because they have the most economic impact. Last year, 60 of those projects were filmed outside L.A.
It wasn't that there wasn't plenty of business in L.A. Despite the gains made by other cities, the number of permitted production days for pilot filming rose by nearly 40 percent this year.
"What we're seeing is the higher-budget, higher-quality projects leaving," FilmLA President Paul Audley told TheWrap, "and what we're left with is a greater number of the lower-end projects."
He said that the area, and the state in general, was having a tough time competing with its rivals because they offer more attractive tax credits and incentives. New cable and TV shows aren't eligible for credits unless they are relocating from outside the state under the California TV and film tax credit program, which was focused on retaining film work when it was launched.
"California will have to go through a major revision of its tax program if it hopes to maintain its TV and film production business at any level," Audley said. "The constant losses have not only left us with the lower-level projects, but we are losing vendors and infrastructure, too.
"We're so far behind its frightening," Audley said. "If California doesn't start to compete really soon, we're going to lose a signature industry."
More than bragging rights are on the line. FilmLA estimated that $277 million was spent on pilot productions in L.A. this year. That's meant the region benefited from 39 percent of the total producers spent on pilots last year, down from L.A.'s 46 percent share last year.
Compounding the bad news for L.A. was the fact that pilots for TV dramas filmed in the region -- including "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," "The Bridge" and Twisted" -- accounted for just 22 percent of those filmed. During the three previous development cycles, drama pilots filmed outside the L.A. region outnumbered those shot in the area by a ratio of more than 2-1. This year, the ratio climbed closer to 4-1.
The TV drama number is critical to the overall health of local filming, because if those shows are picked up, they're mainly hour-long, high-end and multiple episodes. They employ more people and bring more economic benefits than other types of productions.
Comedy pilots, which accounted for 78 percent of the pilot shoots in L.A., were the strongest area. The 75 pilots filmed in the last production cycle was up from last year's 70, but the market share was down from 91 percent to 83 percent. "About a Boy, "Bad Teacher" and "Silicon Valley" were among the pilots shot in L.A.
The report said that by the beginning of the fall viewing season, L.A.'s share of network screen time devoted to primetime scripted dramas will have fallen below 40 percent, a new low.
"In all, viewers this fall will be exposed to 38 L.A.-based shows (15 dramas, 23 comedies)," the report noted. "And viewers will also be exposed to 27 shows filmed outside the region (26 dramas, 1 comedy). Come mid-season, L.A.'s drama share could be even smaller, since just one L.A. show was picked up as a midseason replacement."
After L.A., the leading sites for pilot shoots were New York with 19, followed by Vancouver (15), Atlanta (9), Toronto (6) and Chicago and New Orleans (5). The availability of financial production incentives and production infrastructure are key factors influencing where pilot producers choose to film, and all of the non-L.A. sites offered incentives.
And the bottom line usually trumps creative when it comes to choosing a locale.
For example, none of the 15 pilots shot in Vancouver are set there, and just one Atlanta's nine were set there. Conversely 11 of 19 New York pilots were actually set there (four of the others were set in Washington, D.C.), and all five of Chicago's projects were actually set in the Windy City.
Los Angeles was used to represent other areas more than any other city. The region stood in for New York, Florida, El Paso, Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco, among others.