Markel International’s Stone: Entertainment underwriting in the streaming age
In her 20-year underwriting career, Markel International's head of media and entertainment Pippa Stone has seen major changes in the way content is produced and consumed.
Digitalisation, the rise and rise of the episodic drama, streaming services, and most recently AI and deep fake technology: in her 20-year underwriting career, Markel International head of Media and Entertainment Pippa Stone has seen major changes in the way content is produced and consumed.
Stone was promoted to the new, merged role in March, having joined Markel from Travelers as an underwriter in 2016. Her promotion followed the launch of a cross-class product that covers insureds from principal photography right through to distribution and broadcasting. Clients previously had to take out separate media production and media liability policies.
“In media and entertainment, we have a cross-over with our brokers and with our clients and this is a smoother process for all involved,” she says. “We’re constantly listening to what they need and looking to develop products that support them.”
In the pipeline for later this year is an entertainment commercial combined policy covering property, business interruption, terrorism and liabilities for insureds such as post-production houses, recording studios, equipment companies, and film studios.
All this activity comes during a growth spurt for the UK film industry, which rebounded sharply after the Covid lockdowns.
British Film Institute figures show that expenditure on film productions rose 27% year-on-year in 2022 to £1.97 billion ($2.47 billion), while shooting began on 220 productions, 11 more than in 2021. The combined total spend on film and high-end TV production rose 11% to a high of £6.27 billion in 2022.
Pending increases in tax credits to 34% (of 80% of the cost of qualifying productions) from 25% currently - and to 39% for animations and children’s productions - are providing an additional fillip.
Stone is aware of 26 new UK studios being built – with the film and TV industry now facing talent shortages in certain areas.
One of the biggest recent changes to the industry’s risk profile has been the move from a binary feature-film-versus-TV approach to episodic dramas such as Game of Thrones with huge budgets and A-List stars, notes Stone. Filming on a single series could last up to a year, as opposed to a month for a film.
As well as a shift in the length of shoots, increased budgets have also led to more international filming locations – this in turn has a knock-on increase in exposure to extreme weather events, explains Stone.
As soon as we see something that’s new, we make sure we understand what we are covering, and importantly that the insured is getting the cover they need
However, new technologies look set to mitigate this. Virtual reality, which Stone estimates is used for 10% of production work, can now take viewers from the Arizona desert to the Amazonian rain forest, all from a hangar in Hertfordshire. AI and deep-fake technology are also poised radically to transform film and TV production. Stone has recently had discussions with an advertising agency looking to use the technologies to create a music video and interview with a singer who has been dead for many years.
“As soon as we see something that’s new, we make sure we understand what we are covering, and importantly that the insured is getting the cover they need.”
Stone is as passionate about improving the flow and diversity of talent into the insurance industry as she is about ensuring Markel’s coverage fits the bill.
Alongside her day-to-day role, Stone works closely with Markel’s Early Careers Programme and social mobility charity The Brokerage to encourage new entrants to the industry.
Markel International’s latest figures show it has now exceeded the Lloyd’s women in leadership target of 35% by December 2023. It has made diversity a key remit for the recruiter it uses for its apprenticeships, internships, and graduate programme.
Stone, a winner of two Women in Insurance awards, stresses the importance of supporting women when they have children, whatever their priorities.
“One-size doesn’t fit all. Companies should enable women to continue progressing, learning, and succeeding at work whilst balancing what’s important to them out of work,” she says. “Businesses need to be there for those women who want to reach senior leadership roles, as well as for those who don’t.”
She also works as a mentor within Markel. She advises other mentors to focus on their mentees’ goals, to help them appraise themselves honestly and to consider their own personal brand. When difficult conversations are needed, she recommends a coaching, rather than prescriptive, approach.
Having opted to join the workforce after A Levels, Stone feels her career can inspire those who have not gone to university. A keen mathematician, her first position was in credit control at Willis Towers Watson before she took an entry-level job to break into underwriting.
Her advice to prospective insurance recruits?
“Speak to underwriters and brokers, whether formally or informally, and learn about what each job entails and how that suits your skillset, once you know what part of insurance your skills suit there are lots of opportunities and career paths to work your way up. Whilst there are benefits to formal programmes you don't have to access the industry in this way. You don’t have to access the industry through a formal programme.”
She adds, “We have a really good work-life balance, with great career prospects and supportive companies to work for. We also support studying. We are starting to stand out against law and other financial companies.”