Creative England’s Mehjabeen Patrick discusses the investment challenges and opportunities in the screen sector

Mehjabeen Patrick

The creative industries contribute £111.7bn GVA to the UK economy. Over £8bn of that is attributed to businesses from the creative screen sub-sectors, a space that has been performing strongly during the COVID-19 pandemic. We sat down with Mehjabeen Patrick, Chief Financial & Operations Officer at Creative England, ahead of our Creative Enterprise: Evolve – Investing in Innovation & Creativity event next week in partnership with the BFI and Creative England to talk about the opportunities in the space and the perceived barriers to investment.

Creative England is an organisation that supports businesses across the country, with a focus mainly outside of London. They have been advocating about the barriers and challenges that creative businesses face in terms of being able to grow, scale and attract investment. In 2018 Creative England launched Creative Enterprise: Evolve, an intensive investment readiness programme set up to support small and early-stage businesses within the screen sector. Explaining more about the programme Mehjabeen says:

“We find that creative businesses are generally not as well-equipped to receive investment or to attract the investor interest, because they are not so familiar with the language or the trends, or really getting their business to a stage where it makes sense to an investor and it paints the right picture. Evolve is essentially focusing on businesses who are looking for investment or should be looking for investment. What we do is we work with these businesses to get to the numb of what will help them to grow, scale and attract investment. We spend a lot of one on one time with them to get to know them, and really get them investment ready. The reason for setting this program up was to help screen businesses look at their business and their offering and make them more attractive to investors but also to educate and expose the investor community to exciting investment opportunities in this space.”

The screen sector covers a wide range of businesses including film, television and games. These are all things that have become integral to modern society yet the appetite to invest in them isn’t as voracious as you may expect. Mehjabeen explains:

“I think there’s the lack of awareness on both sides. Screen businesses and the creative sector is generally is made up of lots of small businesses. It’s quite fragmented in that sense. There’s a lack of sufficient data to give investors confidence and pique their interest. There’s also a perceived risk level that is assigned to small businesses and that they are riskier because the creative businesses, or screen businesses generally, are dealing in ideas and creative thinking, not in bricks and mortar or things that investors can see and use as collateral.”

That notion of risk is something that isn’t supported by the data that’s available, which shows that in some cases screen-focused businesses are less risky for investors than some other businesses. Mehjabeen sees education as the key but she also believes that creative businesses need more support to help them speak the language that investors understand.

Throughout the pandemic, society has turned to screens for comfort whether that be gaming, computers or film and television. The increased reliance on screens has made investors look at the space in a different way.

“I think the pandemic has shown the power of creativity generally. It’s shown the ability of the creative sector and screen businesses to quickly respond and come up with solutions.”

“I think the pandemic has shown the power of creativity generally. It’s shown the ability of the creative sector and screen businesses to quickly respond and come up with solutions. We know games businesses, which are one of the types of screen businesses that we support, have really benefited from the pandemic. That’s a fortunate outcome of an unfortunate situation we all find ourselves in. The pandemic has impacted lots of sectors badly but the games sector came out on top in the sense that they had been used to working in this way for a very long time, and everything that the games sector is used to doing, is now something other sectors have to do. Investors I think are a listening and paying attention a bit more, after seeing this sector is resilient and can survive big things like this.”

Virtual production and adapting to providing content digitally is something that Mehjabeen sees as a growing trend, especially during the last few months. The annual BFI London Film Festival, which is supported by BFI, has had to move the entire event online due to the pandemic.

“The human contact and ability to be in a room with other individuals to network and exchange ideas, that’s definitely something that we are all missing. I think it’s strange, it’s different and it’s challenging but being able to actually do it virtually and do it the way that for instance London Film Festival has adopted to this virtual world, is really heartening and encouraging. I think it’s really important things like these do carry on happening, even if it’s in different ways than we are used to. There’s a lot of new technology that is helping people connect, even in these situations. I’m hoping filmmakers and people who really need these events, and these important dates in our calendar, really use it in the best possible way they can.”

The future of cinema as we know it has been dealt a blow this week with the news that Cineworld is to close its doors due to the impact of the pandemic and the postponement of blockbuster films such as the latest James Bond film ‘No Time To Die’, which has been delayed for a second time to April 2021. Could we see a world where cinema utilises online platforms to reach customers on a more permanent basis?

“There’s a lot happening in this sector. The Cineworld news has been quite sad and challenging but things are evolving, and new ways of doing things are coming up and people are adopting, and businesses are pivoting. I think there was a change happening in the way we watch theatrical films and the pandemic to some extent may have accelerated that trend. Cinema has its place in society and I am hopeful of it coming back but it is true that it may not in the way we know it. The future of independent feature films might be linked more closely to digital streaming in the future than the theatres. Its going to be interesting time for the sector as we come out of the pandemic and adopt to the some of the changes it has thrown at us. There will be a lot of challenges that the industry will face and they will have to come up with solutions. Some of those solutions are different ways of doing these things so we can evolve the sector, and we can evolve the industry. I think our relationship with cinema will definitely change.”

While the cinema industry regroups and plans a way forward, Mehjabeen is excited about the opportunities that are out there in other parts of the screen sector for investors. She says:

“There’s the opportunity of getting involved with games businesses who are seeing a boom. That opportunity was there before COVID but it’s rise, growth and profitability now during this time has actually made it even more attractive. There’s opportunity in AR and VR. This is my personal opinion, that this pandemic has perhaps given another opportunity for the whole immersive space to do more. There are a couple of companies we’ve come across who are thinking of how they can create some of the things that we used to do before in AR and VR so that people can enjoy the things they did before, in virtual and augmented reality.”

Find out more about Creative England at https://www.creativeengland.co.uk/ and Creative Enterprise: Evolve at https://www.creativeengland.co.uk/creative-enterprise-evolve/

Creative Enterprise: Evolve – Investing in Innovation & Creativity takes place on 14th October 2020 at 11am. Find out more and register to attend at https://www.ukbaa.org.uk/events/investing-in-innovation-creativity-exploring-the-exciting-opportunities-for-investing-in-screen-based-businesses/

By UKBAA08 Oct 2020