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Wider lens brings screen employees into focus

See also: Wider lens brings screen employees into focus – media release

This article introduces a new experimental data series for measuring employment in the New Zealand screen industry. It outlines the basic reasons for requiring a new measure, and some of the key outcomes.

Statistics New Zealand has been measuring the ‘health’ of the screen industry1 since 2005. Headline figures for the industry show total revenue grew more than 13 percent between 2005 and 2011, and is now worth around $3 billion annually. This suggests an industry that is continuing to grow, despite its very competitive, project-based nature.

graph, Gross revenue of screen industry businesses, by industry sector, 2008–11 financial years.

Production and post-production, the creation of content, remains the largest sector of the screen industry. It contributed around $100 million of this rise, and was valued at $1.4 billion in 2011.

However, total revenue is just one measure of an industry’s health. What other measures are there?

If we consider the number of businesses involved in the industry, we see a 33 percent increase between 2005 and 2011. However, this dramatic rise does not give a full measure of scale. The majority of these new businesses are either contracting businesses, or ‘paper businesses’ set up because of the administrative requirements for some productions. This number does not indicate their number of employees, which is another measure of the scale of the industry. As a result, we have created a more comprehensive measure of the number of people working in the industry.

Previous employment counts

Rolling mean employment (RME) has provided employment figures for the screen industry until now. It is a monthly count of PAYE-based employees, averaged over 12 months. This measure of employment works well in many industry sectors: it levels out small fluctuations in otherwise stable labour environments, and it is based on regularly updated taxation data. But it doesn’t work well for the screen industry. Firstly, this is because many people in the screen industry are not on PAYE-based employment contracts and are therefore not counted; and secondly, because it is an average count of employees. Both these points mean that our employment measures have previously undercounted the industry.

An experimental methodology

Over the past few months we have been exploring another data source, known as LEED, or Linked Employer-Employee Data. LEED combines data on PAYE, withholding tax, sole trader, and self-employed income with Statistics NZ’s Business Frame. By combining Screen Industry Survey data on known, financially active, screen-industry businesses with information from LEED, we have created a new, experimental data series.

The new series covers 2005 to 2011. This corresponds with the start of our Screen Industry Survey collection, and runs through to the most-recent, complete set of LEED Annual data. We note that 2011 LEED is provisional, so some adjustment may occur in the future.

The data below comes from an experimental methodology combining Screen Industry Survey data with LEED data. As it was not possible to match all the survey population to LEED, the results are not yet official statistics.2 Nevertheless, we believe they supplement and enhance the data we have previously released for the screen industry. We will continue to investigate the undercoverage, and, once more is known about its nature and consistency, will look to make these measures part of our official release.  

People working in the screen industry

No distinction is made in LEED data between full- or part-time workers, or between a person who works one day, or 365 days. It does not contain that information. What it does give us is a count of every person identified as working for an active screen industry business. 

graph, Number of people in the active screen industry businesses, 2005–11 financial years.

The total number of people who worked for businesses in the industry appears to have increased almost 8 percent over the five years to 2010. At its peak, the industry employed more than 17,700 people. In 2011, this figure was at least 15,500. While these initial results show a fall, the 2011 data is provisional and so may change.

When we break the workforce down by main source of income, we see that over half of all people employed in the screen industry worked in production and post-production. The production and post-production sector is represented by businesses involved in screen producing and contracting.3 In 2011, these businesses employed at least 8,600 people at some point in the year.

graph, Weighted count of people involved in the screen industry, 2005–11 financial years.

Broadcasting employed over one-fifth of people who worked in the screen industry in 2011. This represented 3,800 people, a figure relatively unchanged over the past five years. The number of people involved in exhibition shows more movement over time, but we might expect this in an industry with large numbers of employees on part-time and short-term contracts. It is worth noting again that this is a count of people employed by screen industry businesses, and not a measure of their hours or length of contract.

The jobs people do

This experimental series shows the screen industry was responsible for 23,000 jobs in 2011, part of a general trend upwards since 2005. There are more jobs in contracting3 businesses, which accounted for twice as many jobs in 2011 as in 2005. The small movements across other screen sectors do not appear to be significant.

graph, Weighted count of jobs, by industry sector, 2005–11 financial years.

‘Total jobs’ counts are higher than ‘total people’ counts, which indicates that people in the screen industry often work in multiple jobs during the year. For example, businesses responsible for producing screen works normally account for about half of all jobs in the industry. The fall in jobs in these businesses for 2011 appears to be offset to some extent by a rising number of jobs in contracting businesses. This may indicate a change in the way production roles are filled; more roles traditionally carried out within producing businesses now being done by contracting. However, this can only be speculation at present.

We should note two things here: firstly, the count of a job is not an indication of the size or permanence of a job. It is simply a count of an employer-employee relationship. Secondly, the method we use for grouping jobs into industry sectors is not the same as that used for grouping people counts into industry sectors. This means the number of jobs will not directly relate to the number of people in the sectors.

Contributions from wages and salaries

One major economic contribution an industry can make is through wages and salaries. For the screen industry, this figure has grown from $544 million in 2005 to $781 million in 2011. The greatest movement was for contracting businesses, whose contribution more than doubled from $174 million in 2005 to $350 million in 2011. 

graph, Total earnings received, by industry sector, 2005–11 financial years.  

Although some of this increase may be attributed to more people working for contracting businesses, it is difficult to attribute the increase to a single factor. Changes in the number of hours worked and the length of employment could also cause these movements. Because we are not able to measure such things in LEED, we focus on industry totals, rather than average earnings by industry. There are too many variables to make such calculations meaningful. Nevertheless, this represents a significant increase in coverage and quality of data for the screen industry.

People who work in the industry

Two out of three people who worked in the screen industry in 2011 were under 40 years.5 This is not surprising when we consider that exhibition and distribution employment made up more than one-third of the under-29-years age group in the industry. Anecdotal evidence suggests these are likely to be people on part-time work contracts, possibly with higher staff turnover than other sectors.

graph, Distribution of age, by industry sector, 2011 financial year.

Almost 60 percent of people aged 40+ in the screen industry worked in producing and contracting businesses, and about one-third in broadcasting.

By sex, we see more females working in distribution (62 percent) and exhibition (55 percent), but more males in contracting (68 percent) and producing (58 percent) businesses.

graph, Percentages of males and females, by industry sector, 2011 financial year.


The new measures of screen industry employment achieved by combining survey data with LEED paint a richer picture of the jobs and people in this high-profile industry. It does this by encompassing a wide variety of employment arrangements, to provide total counts of jobs and people for each year. These may be more meaningful than averages and nominal full-time equivalents, in an industry where short employment contracts are prevalent. We hope this time series will be continued and refined over time, and perhaps become the official measure of employment activity for the screen industry. 


1. References to the screen industry include the four industry sectors covered by the Screen Industry Survey: production and post-production (which includes producing and contracting), broadcasting, distribution, and exhibition.
2. Matching between responding businesses from the Screen Industry Survey's 'businesses with revenue', and LEED, was between 87 percent and 91 percent for each survey year. Non-matching could occur because of a lack of taxation information to identify the employer-employee relationship. Existing survey weights were used to create this data, but no further adjustment was made for non-matches with LEED, as it was felt that weight adjustment would not necessarily be representative of non-matching.
3. Producing is activity on a work for which the business has end-to-end responsibility. Contracting, as used by the Screen Industry Survey, refers to business activity that contributes to a work for which another business has end-to-end responsibility. Both these activities make up the production and post-production sector.
4. The terms employment and unemployment have specific meanings in Statistics NZ outputs. See the Household Labour Force Survey for more information on these measures.
5. Data in this section is based on unweighted, confidentialised counts of people. The coverage within LEED for this data is less than for other financial indicators used in this article. They are therefore represented as percentages of matched, available data.

Published: December 2012

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