TV Drama production reaches record spend

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Australian TV drama production has reached a record spend of $376 million in 2015 / 2015 -up by 25% according to Screen Australia’s annual Drama Report.

Total hours were also up from 518 in 2014/15 to 561 in 2015/16 over 58 titles.

“What really stands out for me in this year’s Drama Report is the record expenditure on Australian TV drama,” said Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia. “I’m delighted to see every single network had multiple dramas in production – an unprecedented 58 in total – responding to the Australian audience’s appetite to watch their own stories on screen.”

Including feature films, foreign investment, post-production and SVOD production, $843 million was spent across 118 productions this year compared to $853 million across 101 productions last year.

“It’s encouraging to see feature film production grow. We do tend to see more ebb and flow in this area depending on the number of titles and their individual budgets. Australia continues to make a global name for itself in PDV [post, digital and visual effects], with this year’s Drama Report including work done on everything from Ghostbusters to Game of Thrones.”

Screen Australia COO Fiona Cameron added, “From a very small base it is fantastic to see the growth in online drama. Screen Australia -supported projects like The Katering Show and Wolf Creek appearing on iview, Stan and international streaming services are a glimpse into the future. New talent developing local IP and selling to new platforms showcases the innovation of the sector.”

However TV production also skews towards the Miniseries comprising up to 13 episodes, which increases cost per hour. Screen Producers Australia warns this puts pressure on broadcasters and notes where some commercial broadcasters barely meet their quotas (particularly for children’s drama) they are importing second-run drama programs from New Zealand to fill quotas.

SVOD services are also not yet subject to these quotas.

AUSTRALIAN TV DRAMA

Not only was it a record year for Australian TV drama titles produced; it was also a record year for total budgets ($416 million) and for total expenditure which was up 25% to $376 million. Significantly total hours are up from 518 in 2014/15 to 561 in 2015/16, an encouraging sign for local drama.

The trend towards shorter length, high-cost TV dramas continued. This is reflected in an abundance of short-run shows (mini-series) such as Barracuda, Deep Water and The Secret Daughter. With the exception of ongoing serials Home and Away and Neighbours, long-form series (comprising 20 or more episodes) are now completely absent. Programs purposed as web series continued to make the leap to television. For example series 4 and 5 of Starting From Now, which was funded by Screen Australia for online self-distribution, was picked up by SBS.

Broadcasters remain the leading financial backers for Australian TV drama, however the proportion of government funding has increased slightly, with 91% of titles having received some form of federal government assistance. More than half of titles (53%) received Screen Australia funding, compared to the average of 40% of titles over the four years prior. The Producer Offset administered by Screen Australia contributed $46 million, up from $38 million in 2014/15.

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Free TV CEO Brett Savill said, “Our ongoing commitment to the investment in quality Australian drama is unrivalled and we are rightly proud of it. Not only do we produce a great range of Australian dramas that all Australians can enjoy for free, our industry successfully competes on the world stage, exporting a raft of drama shows including Home and Away, 800 Words, House Husbands, Love Child, Offspring and Neighbours.

“Despite the difficult market conditions that the industry faces, our commitment to producing Australian content has remained steadfast – spend on Australian content accounts for a massive 78% of Free TV broadcasters’ total expenditure,” he said.

“This commitment is reflected in the array of successful new and much-loved Australian dramas that commercial free to air broadcasters are delivering to audiences, including Molly, Secret Daughter, Doctor Doctor, Hyde and Seek, Brock and The Wrong Girl.

Free TV again urged for licence fee cuts to maintain local production investment.

Screen Producers Australia CEO, Matthew Deaner welcomed a modest yet mixed improvement in the overall health of the industry.

“This Drama Report shows there are green shoots for the industry after a difficult year last year in 2014/15. The record level of television drama spend and titles in 2015/16 is timely and welcome,” he said.

“This year marks the conclusion of a newly updated Actors Television Repeats and Residuals Agreement which will provide some certainty to business dealings in the television drama sector, allowing for improved competition from international content and the exploitation of commissions on emerging and innovative platforms. With this framework in place I am cautiously optimistic that the industry can build on these impressive numbers in the coming years.

“Some serious headwinds remain. Cuts to the ABC and Screen Australia are being felt keenly and these reductions are yet to be balanced by long fought for increases to the offset for television production.”

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