SPAA 2012: The Big 4 spitting out the formats

Four big production companies dominate 80% of the independent production sector, making it harder for smaller independents to have impact in Australia, says producer Nick Murray.

Murray was speaking at the ‘Rise of the Super Indies’ session at the Screen Producers’ Conference in Melbourne yesterday. His company Cordell Jigsaw merged with Zapruder’s Other Films last year, citing the difficulties in production when networks were commissioning so much content from bigger players.

“One of the drivers to get bigger is that companies like Shine are coming into Australia and operating pretty well exclusively as format factories. The main competitors we have are Shine, Fremantle, Granada and Endemol (Southern Star),” he said.

“Those four big companies are all owned effectively by broadcasters.

“Shine for instance is not an independent, they are absolutely massive and their market power here is so huge now that its very, very difficult to get traction in an environment where you’ve got those four aggressive, European-based production companies who are taking probably 80% of the money out of the market.

“Then on top of that you have the Drama guys, Screentime, Matchbox, Essential who are taking up a lot of the Drama cash as well.”

Cordell Jigsaw has produced such shows as Bondi Rescue, Go Back to Where You Came From, The Great Mint Swindle and Great Southern Land.

Admitting his company sits “in the middle,” he also acknowledged that he worried “about the surnames of some of the people who own the companies.”

“Look I’m not saying every show Shine gets up is because it has a Murdoch on the register. But there is at least one show they’re making, and it’s a big show and they got it because of the relationship between the shareholders of the broadcaster involved.

“We had 14 shows on air this year and they are all Australian ideas. Australian ideas are the core of our business. Those 4 companies I have just named, Australian ideas are not the core of their business. And in fact in Shine’s case, the three Australian shows they’ve ┬ámade in the last year are The Renovators, The Shire and WAG Nation. And all of those shows were f***ing disasters.”

Murray said broadcasters are looking to the big 4 companies for formats rather than Australian created content.

“They’ve very open about this. Formats are what they want. It’s the most important part of the current Australian networks’ business -that’s the 3 commercial networks and Foxtel.

“Formats is what is driving them and that’s the thing we’re trying to counter-balance by saying ‘We’ve got a very strong development department.'”

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