L.A. sees decline in share of TV pilots

Los Angeles remains the center of TV pilot production, but its share of the pie continues to shrink as New York, Vancouver, Atlanta and other rivals continue to grab larger slices of the television business.

In the year-long pilot season that ended May 31, out of 202 pilots filmed in the U.S. and Canada, 91 projects (21 dramas and 70 comedies) were shot in the Los Angeles region.

That marked the fourth largest tally in L.A. history and represented a slight increase from last year’s total, according to an annual survey from FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county.


Still, that was 10 fewer pilots than L.A. handled during the peak year of 2004-05, when the L.A. region had an 81% share of all TV pilots. Last year, L.A.'s share dropped to 45%, the second consecutive year that its take fell below 50%.

The long-term decline underscores the ongoing competition from cities across the U.S. and Canada that continue to lure shows with favorable tax credits and rebates. Top competitors for pilot production last season were New York (25 pilots), Vancouver, Canada (16 pilots), Atlanta and Toronto (which each had nine pilots) and Louisiana (eight pilots), according to the report.

As the initial episode of a proposed television series, pilots represent a vital source of employment for local crews. They also provide a glimpse into where many potential television shows will take root at a time when L.A. is more dependent than ever on television production to sustain the entertainment economy.

In the past, pilots made in L.A. were highly likely to stay in the region, but that is no longer the case. In the recent cycle, for example, two pilots that both filmed in L.A. and are set here -- “Fear the Walking Dead,” a spinoff of the hit AMC series; and Fox’s “Lucifer” -- are shooting the first season of their respective series in Vancouver, British Columbia, according to the report.

Until recently, California provided no tax break for producers of TV pilots. That changed this year under an expanded tax credit program that allows more types of projects, including pilots, to qualify for tax credits.

But the impact of the new program won’t be known until later this year when producers apply for credits for next year’s pilot season.

“It appears that we’ve hit rock bottom and our hope is that we will see a positive impact next season,” said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. Inc.

In 2014-15, L.A. captured 19% of all drama pilots, a slight improvement over its 17% share in the prior cycle but well below the 63% share the region enjoyed during the peak 2006-07 season. L.A. retained its dominance in comedy pilots, with a 77% share, up from 76% the prior year.

FilmL.A.'s report also highlighted a surge in digital production. Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and other digital networks produced 26 pilots in the L.A. region last season, compared to just one in the 2011-12 cycle.

Pilots are closely watched because of their economic impact.

The average pilot employs about 150 and has a budget of $2 million (for comedies) to $6 million to $9 million (for dramas). Overall, FilmL.A. estimates, $298 million was spent in L.A. during the most recent pilot season, up from $290 million the prior season.

Many pilots are made but only a few actually turn into full series for broadcast or cable television.

Network pilots are typically produced between January and April in anticipation of May screenings for TV advertisers. Each spring, broadcast networks and cable channels decide which of their pilots make the cut for the fall schedule.

Twitter: @rverrier