Interview with Jonathan Olsberg

May 6, 2024
Health Education Interview Cards - 4


Founder and Executive Chair of Olsberg • SPI

Creative industries are gaining increasing recognition from policymakers and the private sector as a driver of growth and employment. According to UNESCO (2021), creative industries generate roughly $4.2 billion in revenue, with an estimated multiplier effect of 2.5x through direct and induced impacts. However, it is widely recognized that the full potential has not been reached in many nations where these industries are underdeveloped. To support creative industries sector development, IFC is mobilizing financing for the private sector and advisory and policy dialogue with governments.

During the 2023 Annual Meetings, IFC hosted an engaging panel discussion titled “Unleashing the Potential of the Creative Industries”. Following the live event, Jonathan Olsberg, Founder and Executive Chair of Olsberg•SPI, a London-based creative industries consultancy specializing in the global screen sector, spoke with IFC to provide additional insight and continue building the pool of knowledge within the space. 

Film productions are moving to new locations, beyond Hollywood and other traditional production hot  spots. What trends have you been observing globally?

It is important to mention that for the past several years, governments all over the world have recognized the importance of the film and television production industry in driving economic growth, creating employment, fostering screen tourism opportunities, and a host of other economic and strategic benefits. 

We noted that during the pandemic, many jurisdictions opted to expand or boost their production incentives and global marketing strategies, in anticipation of the re-start of the industry and in realising this is an industry that scales up quickly when opportunities arise. Such incentives are an important and popular policy tool in growing the sector.

This interest is also motivated by the overall consumer trend toward watching more screen content at home through Video-on Demand streaming platforms and broadcasters, because the ability for customers to consume content more quickly, means the pace of production must keep up.

Despite recent challenges—due in part to industrial action in the USA that has now ended—the screen production industry continues to display resilience. Developed markets offer a compelling blend of incentives, production expertise, state-of-the-art facilities and a well-established supply chain, while developing sectors have an opportunity to establish the firm foundation of a healthy and sustainable screen sector to compete with more mature jurisdictions and to reap the many benefits of this industry.

Nigeria and several other African countries are interested in becoming regional and international film hubs. How does Africa fit into these global production trends? 

The most noticeable trend is the appetite of the global streamers – like Netflix and others – in commissioning or acquiring local language original content to place on their platforms, with some brilliant successes. The streamers have recognized that these types of productions appeal to millions of people, both across Africa and in the Diaspora, positively affecting their subscriber bases. The feature film The Black Book (2023) on Netflix is a great example; it was filmed in Lagos and brings international-style filmmaking processes to local production ecosystems, and a new blend of filmmaking is emerging. 

This follows suit with announcements by many of these companies to invest more in Africa, which should lead to more growth in the years to come.

What factors make a location attractive to creative industries decision makers looking to start a new production?

There are four key things that locations should bear in mind if they wish to attract more screen production. 

First, there should be an effective and reliable automatic production incentive. This is a major consideration during the film location selection process and can help bring in new productions. 

Second, productions require a sufficiently experienced workforce with capacity to service productions. Without qualified people, producers simply won’t be able to film there. 

Infrastructure is a third factor. The location should have market-ready physical infrastructure, suppliers and services to get the production off the ground. 

Finally, there should be a ‘film-friendly’ production environment that offers a streamlined, efficient and transparent system of regulations; this includes a well-resourced film commission as the government representative for the sector that can facilitate productions while on the ground.

Your firm has advised many countries on providing fiscal incentives for film and TV productions. What are some best practices regarding incentives? 

The structure and process of an incentive system should be simple and clear for both national and international producers, using an understood and tested model such as a rebate or tax credit. It is important that the incentive function predictably and as described, and administrators should be responsive to producers and advise potential projects on structures that will enable access to the incentive. Ideally, incentive budgets should be uncapped, and payment should not be dependent on the originating producer sharing rights. 

Next are legislation and guidelines. These should provide certainty on all areas of eligibility and with a lack of subjectivity, while timescales for application, response and payment should be clearly outlined. Guidelines should also be free from onerous additional requirements, such as censorship or approval of script or footage, rights obligations and excessive or unspecified promotional requirements. Systems can either pay a local or international producer, but payment must be without delays and as outlined in the guidelines.

Having said all the above, it is important to note that, as much as anything, it’s a signal that the country is open for business and keen to support productions that choose to locate there. Technically, the purpose is to reduce the cost of production, and this is especially relevant where local costs are higher than the average.