“Worrying sign” as TV Drama production down

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Screen Producers Australia has expressed concern over a drop in Adult Drama production following data released in Screen Australia’s annual Drama Production Report.

TV hours for adult drama were down in 2014/15, with most programs having a duration of 10 hours or less.

SPA CEO Matthew Deaner says 2014-15 levels at their lowest point in a decade comes at a time of  shorter series commissions as well as sharp declines in commercial television commissioning, while ABC funding cuts are yet to bite.

“The industry expects a level of fluctuation from year to year, particularly in expenditure on local and international feature film production. But the hours of drama television are a worrying sign as television remains the engine room of the production sector,” he said.

“After eight years of growth in adult drama expenditure, we have now seen two consecutive years of falls in spend with the total number of hours produced dropping from a peak of just over 500 hours in 2007-08 to closer to 400 hours in 2014-15. This the lowest figure in a decade,” he said.

“At this rate we are on track for Australian adult drama to be in the same situation as children’s drama, where commercial networks merely meet their quote obligations only rather than commissioning over and above the quota.”

He also noted that, increasingly, second-run drama programs from New Zealand were being used by networks to fill quota, making it impossible for Australian programs to compete on a cost basis.

“Shorter run series reflect the demands of the marketplace due to the popularity of six and eight episode dramas and, it can be argued, allow for a greater diversity of programming and provide opportunities for more creatives and production companies, but the flip side is that these short form dramas are incredibly expensive to establish when costs are not amortised over a long form series. This has lead to a reliance on Screen Australia funding for these productions. Sustainability is the issue here,” he said.

Meanwhile commercial free-to-air broadcasters remain the largest financiers of TV drama, even though their contribution reduced this year. Direct government investment continued to underpin a large proportion of the slate, with Screen Australia alone contributing $21m to supporting 47% of all TV drama titles.

Free TV CEO Julie Flynn said, “We are extremely proud of our ongoing commitment to Australian

“The latest Screen Australia drama report again highlights that our members are the major
investors in Australian drama and contribute more than any other sector with $93 million across 21

“The really good news is that all three commercial networks have announced an exciting and
varied slate of new Australian dramas for the coming year. These include: The Secret Daughter,
Wanted, Molly, Here Come the Habibs! House of Bond, Hide and Seek, Mary: The Making of a Princess,
Brock and Offspring Season 6.”


  1. One of the advantages of shorter seasons it makes viewers want more. Love Child is a good example of this (for me anyway). Puberty Blues was another but it didn’t get a third season and I wanted a lot more of that show. 8 weeks dramas are short and to the point. I found W & L always had a slump in the season perhaps because it went for too long. @unclepete you made some valid points about the retention span of humans…gone are the days people would sit down for watch A Country Practice or Blue Heelers every week like the 80s and 90s. I personally like shorter seasons (I can’t believe I’m saying this) so I don’t have to invest for too long. I think that’s why binge viewing is also popular. You can watch it when you want. I love Australian drama but am disappointed to read it’s dropped in hours from the 2007/8 era. I’d be happy with 8 and 13 episodes of a variety of Aussie dramas…

  2. There simply are hardly any dramas premiering particularly on commercial free to air that are a complete work of fiction. They seem to only be interested in commissioning something based on a real life even or biographical. Where are the new ideas? Diverse Storylines? Viewers are craving Australian drama and something different.

    The new dramas I watched a full season of this year were the principal and winter. The principal was four eps and winter was six eps. The rest didn’t interest me. We need good fictional dramas and they are just not happening.

    As a drama viewer with networks moving away from overseas dramas and reluctant to commission australian fictional dramas I’m finding less and less reason to watch free to air.

  3. Thanks David. It confirms the trend I was seeing. I enjoy Aussie dramas but had noticed shorter run series were more prevalent on the Commercial networks although the ABC has often done 8 part series even some 13 part series have been trimmed in recent years.
    I am glad there is more investment, but still worry about this trend of shorter series.

  4. “Shorter run series reflect the demands of the marketplace due to the popularity of six and eight episode dramas…”

    This ^ is what is important. Audiences have finally cottoned on to the fact that shows that have 22+ episodes per “season” are not worth the effort in the long run as the little tricks used to keep us interested (ongoing storylines etc) are unsustainable.

    Plus, of course, human beings’ attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.

    BBC and pay TV have known this for years, FTA is just catching up **shrugs**

  5. The spin from the networks continues but the facts are they have looked to reduce drama spending for years. And SPA has argued that the Producer Offset for television which gives the broadcasters and producers a tax rebate of 20% of their spend should be increased to 40%. Before 2007 the broadcasters got no tax rebate and producer just as much drama. It proves that despite the huge annual subsidy to them through the Producer Offset this has not increased drama output. Giving them 40% is just another gift. In these circumstances the outlook for Australian TV drama is bleak, increasingly spasmodic with little continuity.

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