by Mardee Handler, managing editor
When Google returns a network television show ahead of a city by the same name, it says something. In the case of Nashville, it says that the ABC television show bearing the city’s name has indeed made a big splash. Does Nashville – the city – reap economic benefits? The answer appears to be a resounding YES.
In the broadest sense, cities that provide the landscape for a television series – or a movie – benefit in both tangible and intangible ways. The increased publicity for and awareness of a city – particularly if portrayed in a positive light – often lead to concrete benefits such as increased tourism, greater economic development opportunities, and perhaps even an influx of residents. Other tangible economic rewards come as a result of on-location filming and production.
The anecdotal mood – among residents, tourists and residents alike – appears overwhelmingly positive, making the economic splash likely to be an enduring boon to Music City.
Nashville, a drama series intertwining the lives of several fictional big names and up-and-comers in the country music industry, premiered on October 10, 2012. According to Chelsea McCready, Director of Research for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, Nashville had 12.2 million visitors in 2013, up from 11.5 million in 2012. The year 2013 broke the record for hotel rooms sold in Nashville in one year, with hotel occupancy tax collections up 15% over the previous year.
Can this growth in tourism be attributed to a TV show? While the cross-over of country music into pop has widened the net to attract a growing number of country music fans, the impact of the show cannot be underplayed. A survey of leisure visitors conducted in November and early December 2013, 55% of tourists said that had seen Nashville, the show; 43% said that it made them more inclined to visit Nashville, the city; and 18% said the show was their motivating factor to visit.
A more detailed analysis of the Convention & Visitors Corporation study reveals that people who have seen the show were not only more likely to return to Nashville for another visit in the next two years compared to those who hadn’t seen the show – and that, on average, they spent more money (almost $44 more) per night during their stay.
Nashville is not alone. Chicago recently announced a record-breaking year for its local television and film industry. In 2013, Chicago saw a 20 percent increase in production activity, including several major films and six full-time television shows. The most impressive growth was in TV production, according to a city press release. “Scripted one-hour dramas see Chicago as a versatile, cinematic and affordable destination,” said Rich Moskal, Director of the Chicago Film Office, in the release.
He cites both NBC’s Chicago Fire and its spinoff, Chicago PD, for sending a message to the industry: “Chicago is full service, highly functioning and open for business.” In addition to Chicago Fire and Chicago PD, other television series filmed in Chicago include Betrayal, Crisis, Mind Games and Sirens.
In 2013, Chicago saw a 20 percent increase in production activity, including several major films and six full-time television shows.
Thanks to the Illinois Film Production Tax Credit Act passed in 2008, the state offers “an aggressive” 30 percent tax credit on qualified production spending and Illinois salaries up to $100,000 per worker. The Act also provides for an additional 15 tax percent credit on salaries for people living in economically disadvantaged areas (measured by unemployment rate, which must be 10.5 percent or higher).
Tennessee also offers an attractive 25 percent cash rebate for television and film production and labor costs. The Tennessee Film, Entertainment & Music Commission offers this incentive “in an effort to recruit film & TV projects, encourage job growth & infrastructure in the state.”
While it is more difficult to concretely link Chicago’s television and film activity to tourism, the increased publicity for the city certainly didn’t hurt. Chicago had a banner year for tourism in 2012, with a record number of domestic and international visitors. Over 46.3 million people visited Chicago in 2012, representing a 6.4 percent increase from the year before. Hotel occupancy rates broke records in August 2013, signaling a continuing trend.
And tourism has a direct impact on the city’s economy. Using the 2011 tourism figure of 46.3 million visitors [topped in 2012] a City of Chicago press release credits the tourism industry as “an economic engine directly responsible for 132,000 jobs, $$805.6 million in tax revenue and $12.8 billion in direct spending.” No small potatoes.
Of course, as J.R. Ewing fans will attest, the concept of a television series bearing a name of a city is not a new idea. Dallas was a widely popular CBS television drama that premiered on April 2, 1978 and ran through May 3, 1991. It was revived on a more subtle scale in 2012, airing on the TNT network.
The first season of the new Dallas was reported to have a $28.8 million local economic impact, according to Dallas News. Currently in its third season, the “new” series has been met with mixed reception from residents, many of whom have voiced opinions that the traffic hassles and outsiders weren’t worth the economic gain, particularly since such a large majority of the inside scenes are reportedly filmed in Los Angeles.
Nashville – the TV show – now in its second season, is pretty transparent about its filming locations in Nashville – the city. The ABC website includes a Google map showing where (and describing) various scenes were filmed during its first season. The anecdotal mood – among residents, tourists and residents alike – appears overwhelmingly positive, making the economic splash likely to be an enduring boon to Music City.