This year’s annual Drama Report from Screen Australia provides an insight into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Australian screen industry, which resulted in the near total shutdown of large-scale drama production in March 2020, and continues to present significant challenges for production and the wider sector both in Australia and internationally.
$991 million total Australian expenditure – 18% down on last year’s spend and below the 5-year average, largely due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the almost total shutdown of large-scale drama production for the last quarter of 2019/20.
Expenditure by Australian titles – $543 million 55% of total expenditure was triggered by Australian titles that started principal photography during 2019/20.
20 Australian general TV drama titles- $198 million expenditure down by 39% on last year’s record spend, and 31% below the five-year average. Hours were down by 19%. Across the total general TV drama slate, hours, budgets, spend, and average cost per hour were the lowest in over ten years.
12 Australian children’s TV drama titles – $46 million 55% below last year’s decade-high spend of $101 million.
23 Australian online drama titles – $94 million record expenditure, up 95% on last year. Hours up by 16%.
20 general TV series at drama 351 hours of content, down on last year’s 435 hours.
Twelve children’s dramas entered production in 2019/20, generating 78 hours of content, 51% down on last year’s 6-year high, with a spend of $46 million. Budgets were down by 52% and spend by 55%. Hours, spend, budgets and cost per hour fell below the 5-year average.
The ABC financed seven of the 12 titles in production, including animations Kangaroo Beach and Space Nova, which was also financed by Nine, and live action titles Definitely Not News, DisRupted, First Day and Mustangs FC series 3, which was also financed by NITV.
In 2019/20, five titles entered production that were financed by the commercial freeto-air broadcasters, including The Bureau of Magical Things series 2 (10), The Gamers 2037 (Nine) and Kitty is Not a Cat series 3 and Tales of Aluna (Seven).
Online TV @ 30 mins or more: SVOD (e.g. Stan), BVOD (e.g. ABC iview), AVOD (e.g. YouTube) and TVOD (e.g. iTunes)
In 2019/20, 23 titles were first released online, all of which were series. While fewer titles were produced in 2019/20 compared to last year, hours increased by 16%. Considerable increases in budgets and spend can largely be attributed to two larger-budget titles for SVOD platforms. A much greater proportion of budgets was spent in Australia this year, with total spend rising 95%.
Foreign TV and online drama activity accounted for $193 million in Australian expenditure in 2019/20, up 59% on last year, driven by spend on titles for VOD platforms. Eighteen titles contributed to this result, including the three foreign shoot titles Shantaram (The Bear) (US), Odd Squad series 3 (US/Canada) and Bad Genius (Thailand); and fifteen PDV-only titles including US titles The Mandalorian series 2, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series 2, What If…? and The Boys series 2.
Sources of Finance
The Australian screen industry provided 42% of the finance to this year’s Australian TV and online drama titles – one per cent lower than last year’s share, and made up of $144 million to 48 titles. The Producer Offset provided $32 million and made up 9% of total finance, below the 5-year average of 11%. The Location and PDV Offsets have been combined to ensure data confidentiality. Seven titles accessed either the Location or PDV Offset, and the Offsets contributed a combined $10 million in finance. Direct government sources provided $44 million for 41 titles, or 13% of total finance. Screen Australia provided $18 million to 30 TV and online drama titles that commenced principal photography during the year (55% of all titles in the Australian TV and online drama slate).
Drama production by location (inc. film)
With 48% of Australian spend, New South Wales accounted for the greatest share of total expenditure. Spend of $475 million was up 22% on last year.
Victoria accounted for 28% of spend, the majority of which was attributable to domestic TV and online drama. Spend of $279 million was 21% down on last year’s record high.
South Australia reported 15% of the national share. Total spend of $146 million represented an increase of 34%, the state’s fifth consecutive year of growth, and a new record.
Queensland dropped to 5% of the national share, with almost all expenditure coming from domestic productions. Expenditure fell by 82% from last year to $53 million.
Western Australia’s share of spend remained at 3%. Expenditure fell by 3% to $34 million.
The Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and the Northern Territory accounted for the remaining expenditure of $4 million, or less than 1%, representing an 84% decline on last year’s record.
At Home Alone Together Australian Broadcasting Corporation ABC
The Heights series 2 Matchbox Productions Pty Ltd ABC
Home and Away series 33 Seven Network Operations Limited Seven
Housos vs Virus: The Lockdown Antichocko Productions Pty Ltd Seven
Kinne Tonight series 2 Big Yellow Taxi Productions Pty Ltd 10
Metro Sexual Humdrum Comedy Pty Ltd 9Go!
Neighbours series 37 Fremantlemedia Australia Pty Ltd
Regular Old Bogan Stepmates Studios Seven
Retrograde Orange Entertainment Pty Ltd ABC1
Rosehaven series 4 Guesswork Television Pty. Ltd. ABC
Wentworth series 8 Fremantlemedia Australia Pty Ltd Foxtel
Fat Pizza: Back in Business series 1 Antichocko Productions Pty Ltd Seven
Five Bedrooms series 2 Hoodlum Entertainment and Hoodlum Active Pty Ltd 10
Halifax: Retribution Beyond Lonehand Pty Ltd Nine
Harrow series 3 Hoodlum Entertainment and Hoodlum Active Pty Ltd ABC
Informer 3838 Screentime Pty Limited Nine
Mystery Road series 2 Bunya Productions Pty Ltd ABC
Operation Buffalo Porchlight Films Pty Ltd ABC
Wakefield Jungle Entertainment Pty Ltd ABC
With Intent Fremantlemedia Australia Pty Ltd 10
Alphabet Street Paper Moose Pty Ltd Disney Junior
The Bureau of Magical Things series 2 Jonathan M Shiff Productions Pty Ltd 10
Definitely Not News Australian Broadcasting Corporation ABC
DisRupted CJZ Worldwide Productions Pty Ltd, Sticky Pictures Pty Ltd, LateNite Films Pty Ltd ABC
First Day Epic Films Pty Ltd, Kojo Entertainment, Epic TV Pty Ltd ABC
The Gamers 2037 Ambience Entertainment Pty Limited Nine
Kangaroo Beach Cheeky Little Media Pty Limited ABC
Kitty Is Not a Cat series 3 Bogan Entertainment Solutions Pty. Ltd. Seven
Mustangs FC series 3 Matchbox Productions Pty Ltd ABC
Space Nova SLR Productions Pty. Ltd. Nine
Tales of Aluna Three’s A Company P/L Seven
Thalu Weerianna Street Media Pty Ltd NITV
2121 Jenna Cosgrove, Resurgence Productions Pty Ltd YouTube
Back to the Rafters Seven Studios Pty Limited Amazon Prime
Bloom series 2 Playmaker Media Pty Ltd Stan
Cancelled More Sauce Pty Ltd Facebook
Clickbait Tony Ayres Productions Pty Ltd, Matchbox Pictures Pty Ltd Netflix
The Commons Playmaker Media Pty Ltd Stan
Deadhouse Dark Deadhouse Films Pty. Ltd. YouTube
Ding Dong I’m Gay Wintergarden Pictures Pty. Ltd. YouTube
Dom and Adrian: 2020 Easy Tiger Productions Pty Ltd, Soul HQ Pty Ltd Stan
Drunk History Australia Eureka Productions Pty Ltd 10Play
Fracketty Frack: It’s the Frackpocalypse Odd Tale Productions Pty Ltd YouTube
How To Stay Married series 2 Hell And High Waters Holdings Pty Ltd 10Play
Love, Guns and Level Ups Fury Fingers Films YouTube
Loving Captivity Heroine Productions Facebook
Meta Runner series 2 Glitch Productions Pty Ltd YouTube
Mint Condition Boilermaker Pty Ltd Vimeo
Moments of Clarity Electric Yak Pty Ltd YouTube
Neighbours: Erinsborough High Fremantlemedia Australia Pty Ltd 10Play
Nice Shorts Bunya Productions Pty Ltd YouTube
Rain Dance Cockatoo Colab Pty Ltd TBD
The Unboxing Seven Studios Pty Limited Facebook
Why Are You Like This (series) WAYLT S1 Pty Ltd, C-KOL Pty Ltd ABC
YOLO: Crystal Fantasy Princess Pictures Pty Ltd Adult Swim
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
• In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic halted large-scale drama production.
• Titles that had their production or post-production interrupted by the pandemic reported increases in costs. For most titles, these costs were yet to be fully realised at time of reporting. Surveyed producers of titles with budgets over $1 million reported cost increases ranging from marginal increases, to increases of around 15% of the pre-COVID budget.
• The pandemic is estimated to have postponed around 26 Australian drama titles with total budgets exceeding $325 million. Several of these titles are now slated to enter production in 2020/21, which is affecting the scheduling of other titles.
• Following the introduction of Australian Screen Production Industry COVID-Safe Guidelines in late May 2020, large-scale production began to resume in some locations, assisted in several cases by additional Government funding, and the new Temporary Interruption Fund. The pandemic continues to seriously affect the development, production, and release of drama throughout Australia.
• The 2019/20 slate includes a significant number of titles affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that were yet to finalise production and extra costs at time of publication. Estimations have been made when necessary.
You can read the report in full here.
Screen Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Graeme Mason, said, “Never in the 30 year history of the Drama Report have we seen an event like the COVID-19 pandemic. While we looked on track to celebrate a record year in many areas of the industry, the pandemic is estimated to have postponed around 26 Australian drama titles with total budgets exceeding $325 million. This large scale impact is unprecedented.”
“Several challenges remain with many projects reporting increases in costs as they make necessary adjustments to work in a COVID-safe environment, while others are yet to resume work or get started for a variety of COVID-related reasons. This will also have a flow on effect as some productions slated to commence work in 2020/21 have not been able to, with dramatic changes in production schedules impacting the availability of cast, crew and studio space.”
“Despite the hardships, I’m encouraged that our industry has been able to safely and markedly increase production activity and there are already positive signs that our sector will be able to bounce back. As a result of support from the Federal Government’s Temporary Interruption Fund (TIF) and Screen Australia’s direct COVID-19 funding we have supported a safe return to work on projects with combined production budgets of over $330 million. The TIF continues to fill a vital gap in getting productions back up and running, and has now been replicated in many other countries.”
“I commend everyone in the industry on their tenacity, resilience and ability to adapt and find ways to move forward in the midst of a global pandemic,” continued Mason.
Free TV Australia
Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair said: “While Screen Australia report shows this was undoubtedly a tough year for all in our industry, it also highlights broadcasters’ absolute commitment to providing great Australian content.
“In FY20, commercial free-to-air broadcasters produced 336 hours of first-release Australian drama with programs like Housos vs Virus: The Lockdown, Home and Away, Informer 3838, Halifax: Retribution, Five Bedrooms, and Neighbours.
“This was despite the unprecedented challenges faced by the industry, including suspension and cancellation of program production across all genres, a significant reduction in advertising revenues, and increased costs of producing and delivering content during this time.
“The interesting thing is, during COVID-19 Australians relied on our services more than ever before, with average audiences for some programs up by 60% at the end of March in all demographics.
“Broadcasters worked hard to meet this demand, including by bringing great Australian drama to free-to-air screens.
“We are proud to be the platform of choice for so many Australians – and our drama slate is an important part of our overall offering.”
Screen Producers Australia
“It has been a challenging year for the screen industry, and we should be proud of the quality and quantity of great Australian content that has been produced over the last 12 months despite what has been a significant decline in and disruption of production of Australian content,” said SPA CEO Matthew Deaner.
“SPA will carefully consider the wealth of data in the report, however the $543m spend is a great result given the impact of COVID-19 and the disrupted commissioning from broadcasters prior to the pandemic taking hold (signalled here and here) as well as the provision of quota suspensions for 2020 from mid April. While diminished in output, this still translates into a rich and diverse range of content available for Australian and international audiences, at a time in which people are spending more and more time with screen content.
“In particular, we note the investment of $46m from Australian and foreign streaming services in TV and online drama, against the backdrop of the soaring popularity of what are at last count 24 significant streaming platforms providing content to the Australian viewer. This result remains modest and reaffirms our desire to continue to work closely with these platforms and the Government to ensure an ongoing appropriate investment in the market from this sector.
“We also note the spend on Australian features was down at $25m and the need to ensure the Government’s announced reforms to support measures do not put this economic and cultural dividend at risk. There are also similar concerns for children’s drama, with spend and hours well down from last year and the genre facing an uncertain future,” said Deaner.
“We congratulate Screen Australia on this important work, which over the years has continued to provide an invaluable longitudinal picture of the health of the scripted content made by our industry. It also highlights the need for a broader range of data about the production industry across a range of genres such as factual and entertainment and on critical key metrics such as exports. Our industry’s ongoing health is not purely a function of dollars spent but on the ongoing capacity and growth from SMEs to continue to generate jobs, exports and Australian stories.
“There are examples of valuable analysis undertaken in overseas territories as joint exercises between industry and Government (the UK and Canada) which provide a good template for local analysis and reporting in Australia. We also look forward to the release of updated ABS data for our local sector, which is now overdue and which provides another valuable benchmark for the industry,” Deaner continued.