With a tidal wave of Drama titles coming from Streaming competitors, Foxtel is focussing its lens on home-grown stories aimed fair and square at local viewers.
While other players are looking to create dramas to sell universally, Foxtel is taking the opposite approach.
Foxtel Executive Director of Television Brian Walsh tells TV Tonight, “Certainly the self-examination we’ve been doing is ‘What sort of Scripted content is going to differentiate us from Netflix, Amazon, Stan, Disney+ and Apple moving forward? It’s been the subject of a lot of very deep research, focus groups and deep dives internally.
“We’ve always punched above our weight. We’ve never set ourselves to the minimum requirement. It’s always been accepted that to be a successful Australian media company we have to be strong in Australian storytelling.
“We have a very successful track record in Australian Drama and we don’t intend in any way to shy away from our success. If anything we want to build on it.
“You’ve got to make it for your domestic audience first and foremost.”
“We don’t necessarily take the view that every Drama commission has to be successful in multiple markets for it to be a consideration for us. You’ve got to make it for your domestic audience first and foremost. If it happens to appeal more broadly then that’s great. That’s icing on the cake, but it’s not a pre-requisite for us that it has to travel.
“It’s probably a good differentiator that we are prepared to invest in Australian stories for Australian audiences. Our commissioning strategy moving forward will be with that in mind, whilst at the same time looking for opportunities where the story lends itself to bigger budgets, bigger ideas that can appeal to global audiences.”
Foxtel is developing Lawyer X and Teacher’s Pet dramas, Wentworth returns to cameras next month for 20 more episodes, while Upright, starring Tim Minchin, is due later this year.
After Drama boss Penny Win moved to a part time role, rumours began circulating in the production sector that Foxtel was retreating from local Drama.
“Any suggestion we are backing down from Drama commissioning is unfounded”
“Any suggestion we are backing down from Drama commissioning is unfounded,” insists Walsh.
“We’ve probably had one of our strongest years this year. The direction we’ve taken is in having a more diverse slate. The year started with Secret City: Under the Eagle then Wentworth, Lambs of God, now Mr. Inbetween (pictured top) and later in the year will be Upright.
“So across all those commissions you’re looking at very different types and forms of Drama.
“Upright is another big departure for us, a road comedy with Tim Minchin. It’s a half hour which is not what Australian television has traditionally commissioned in this space. We still have SeeSaw’s The End to come and there are 4 other projects in various stages of development.”
There were also questions about whether CEO Patrick Delany was as enthusiastic about Drama as Sport?
“I think it’s unfair and incorrect to suggest that Patrick Delany does not have any interest in Drama. Quite the opposite. He’s very interested in all genres on the platform and Sport is an important driver for subscribers. Patrick came from FOX Sports so I guess it’s convenient for some critics to suggest we are a company that’s purely focussed on Sport.
“A successful Pay TV company clearly can’t sustain just based on Sport, or based on one genre.”
“But clearly a successful Pay TV company clearly can’t sustain just based on Sport, or based on one genre. It’s got to be a mix.
“Sport is incredibly important to us. It’s our differentiator, when you consider all the other players in market with Scripted.”
But Walsh concedes finding a returning series to replace A Place to Call Home is a challenge.
“It’s not through lack of trying. We’ve sat with many production companies and given them the brief. I continue to take meetings as recently as last week.”
Yet scripted Comedy is a genre which has not enjoyed ongoing success, but Walsh remains open to ideas.
“We’re not shying away from it. If the right idea comes along of course we will look at it,” he says.
“Tim Minchin’s vehicle has a lot of terrific comedic moments. But the Comedy we’re looking for is not the sort of Comedy that ABC are doing. They do very well in that space and congratulations to them.
“We want to be famous for Drama, LifeStyle, Sport, Movies, Factual. I’d like us to be Famous for Comedy but we simply can’t do everything we’d like to do.”
Mr. Inbetween airs 2pm Fridays and is repeated 8pm on FOX Showcase.