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Drama Report: Foreign productions boom, drama series & kids down

A record-breaking $1.9b spent across screen sector production, driven by foreign titles during pandemic. But Drama series & Kid's drop.

  • Record breaking spend on production
  • Foreign production booms during pandemic
  • Modest rise in Australian production compared to pre-pandemic
  • Miniseries up but TV drama series down
  • Children’s drama hours down 56%

A record-breaking level of expenditure was spent on production in Australia in 2020/21 of $1.9 billion across film, television, children’s, online, foreign titles and post-production.

This comprises $874 million on Australian projects and $1.04 billion on foreign projects produced or post-produced here.

The Screen Australian Drama Report 2020 / 21 notes this is nearly double last year’s spend, and more than 50% above the five year average, driven by a range of factors, including: projects postponed into the year by COVID shutdowns; low levels of COVID-19, the attractiveness of Australia as a production destination, the strength of local production teams and infrastructure; foreign titles encouraged into Australia by key Australian creatives; and a strong slate of new Australian projects.

The 95 Australian titles that began production in 2020/21 generated $874 million of spend in Australia, up 57% on 2019/20’s result and setting a new record for spend by Australian titles. This included a record $125 million on local online drama titles, up 20% on last year. Australian local titles accounted for 46% of the total expenditure in Australia.

Production of mini-series increased significantly from last year, with titles up 38%. But television series and serials, hours, budgets and expenditure were all down by 10% on 2019/20.

The gaps widened in Children’s TV with just seven titles in production in 2020/21, down from 14 in 2019/20. Hours, budgets and spend were all down on the previous year – by 56%, 23% and 6% respectively. Six of seven titles were produced by ABC with just one, Dive Club, by 10 / Netflix.

Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher, said, “It is pleasing that the production of local Australian content has had its biggest year, in addition to Australia’s notable success attracting foreign productions, which have provided valuable jobs and training opportunities to the industry.

“This achievement reflects the hard work and skills of our screen professionals and the talent of our storytellers, along with the success of the targeted incentives with which the Morrison Government supports this key industry.”

Screen Australia’s CEO, Graeme Mason said, “It’s important to look at both of the production years that were hit by the pandemic. We were on track to break records in 2019/20, and what we are seeing now is the hard work of the Australian industry, who adapted and continued to work through COVID, paying off.

“It’s simply unprecedented to have 10 big foreign productions shooting here in Australia, and especially notable that so many had key Australian creative involvement. From Chris Hemsworth starring in Thor: Love and Thunder and Escape from Spiderhead, to Bruna Papandrea, Nicole Kidman and others bringing the adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers to Australia. A mix of local and global talent and finance drove this extraordinary result. Australia cemented its reputation as a leading destination for international productions in 2020/21, thanks not only to our world-class cast, crew, facilities and stunning physical locations and Australia’s lower rates of COVID-19 but also due to the incentive and investment framework supported by the Federal, state and territory governments.

“For the first time in this report we can see the specific role of SVOD investment, where spend on Australian titles reached $116 million in 2020/21. Over the past five years we have seen average production budgets for Australian SVOD drama expand from $800,000 in 2016/17 to $13.5 million in 2020/21. Spend and cost are just one of several measures of drama production, but it is worth noting that spend on Australian SVOD drama has grown and that the combined spend on drama by FTA and SVOD platforms is at similar levels as that traditionally spent by the FTA sector alone.”

63 foreign backed projects (including PDV-only titles) generated $1.04 billion spend, more than double that of 2019/20 and a new record for spend in Australia by foreign titles. This included a record spend of $793 million on three features, two TV dramas and five online dramas that commenced shooting in Australia. Spend on foreign PDV-only titles (titles that only had post, digital and visual effects activity in Australia) also reached a record $246 million, up 48% on 2019/20’s result.

Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner said, “Whilst we welcome the overall strong result, the $874 million in Australian content expenditure was in fact only a modest rise on pre-pandemic levels ($797 million 2018/19). This is of concern given this year’s figure would include a substantial number of projects which were delayed in 2019/20 and which subsequently commenced in 2020/21.”

A large increase in the total investment figure has been generated by a marked uptick in foreign productions ($1.04 billion up from $413 million pre-pandemic).

“Whilst this activity offers a welcome economic boost, it does not provide any local upside in terms of intellectual property generation and fewer opportunities for local creatives and cast. These productions contribute a minimal amount to the building of sustainable local production businesses and do not enhance our ability to create Australian cultural content that speaks with a genuinely Australian voice,” said Deaner.

The uptick in inbound investment which came because Australia was an attractive filming destination while a number of short-term environmental factors prevailed, had its own challenging impact for the local sector, which competed with international productions for access to local crews.

“We need to treat the Drama Report numbers with caution, because whilst they present a very strong top-line figure, a closer examination reveals challenging conditions for local Australian productions,” said Deaner.

SPA noted the figures reveal a significant structural adjustment in television drama, showing the lowest number of hours in the past 5 years and spend not correcting from pre-pandemic levels.

There are also strong warning signs in the deeper data relating to children’s drama, with the industry’s concerns following removal of quotas on commercial free-to-air television playing out in real time.

But SPA welcomed the investment of $125 million in SVOD and online drama as it awaits the Government’s decision on new Australian content rules for streaming services, and the support for small screen productions through the Producer Offset, which passed the Parliament last week.

“The investment figure from streaming services comes against the backdrop of global streaming content budgets of AU$37 billion and strengthens the case in favour of the appropriateness of ongoing safeguards which protect local investment from outside fluctuations,” said Deaner.

“We congratulate Screen Australia on the delivery of this critical piece of research, which provides important visibility into the long-term health of scripted content production in Australia,” said Deaner.

“We continue to believe there’s a role for a broader study of all Australian content in different genres and will continue to advocate for robust info for the whole sector, so that industry-wide trends can be tracked and understood.”

Further analysis of the Screen Report will follow later this week.

5 Responses

    1. Agree Guy but unfortunately it only rated about 400,000 which is not a great indicator of the network in comitting to another series. Network exectitives want a series to rate high within the first series, if not it is doomed Im afraid.

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