Foxtel: “We will keep making drama”

Regardless of changes to regulation, Foxtel insists local drama is what audiences want to see -but it still pushes for change.

Foxtel will remain committed to Australian drama because audiences want to see it, a senior executive at the Subscription TV provider insists.

Foxtel is required to spend at least 10% of total program expenditure on new Australian drama programs. An amendment to the Broadcasting Legislation Act would have seen this reduce to 5%, with Foxtel recently arguing for more flexibility to spend on other genres including lifestyle, documentary and entertainment.

But while it was unanimously rejected in a Senate report last June, it could still proceed under the New Eligible Drama Expenditure scheme, depending on how the election results land.

Drama expenditure by subscription TV providers over the past four years, has dropped from almost $57 million in 2017- 18 to less than $9 million in the most recent (Covid impacted) year.

Amanda Laing Chief Commercial and Content Officer says Foxtel remains committed to Australian production.

Speaking recently at Screen Forever, she said, “We’re absolutely still the local champion for Australian stories and Australian production. I think from our perspective, what we want to be able to do is make content that Australians love. That takes many forms: comedies, scripted, lifestyle, dramas, factual -all these different types of content that Australians enjoy.

“To suggest that we won’t make as much content or we won’t make drama, if it’s not regulated. … we make a whole lot of unscripted. But that’s not regulated,. Why do we make it? Because it’s awesome, and because Australians want to watch it.

“An argument that suggests Foxtel wants to pull back on its investment in Australian production is really not fair and doesn’t reflect what we’ve always done, and will continue to do. We will continue to take a leadership position in relation to Australian production.”

However Foxtel remains firm on a ‘level playing field’ when it comes to regulation and the anti-siphoning lsit.

“We are the only company with a regulated 10% media obligation. The streamers don’t have that. Free to Airs don’t have that. They own BVOD platforms (catch-up), and some of them own SVOD platforms (subscription). None of them have that obligation, but we do,”she continued.

“The competition… is incredibly intense from all of the new players coming into the market. We want to be the local champion, we want to be the person who survives against all of that global competition. We are competing with businesses that spend between $13B and $16B a year on content and they monetise it globally.

“We’re up there, we are holding our own in hand to hand combat. But we need a level playing field to be able to compete. To do that, we need to be able to spend our money, where we think it will make the best impact and the best reception and the most love coming from Australian audiences.

“So we’re looking for a level playing field. I don’t think that’s unfair. And we’re looking for the ability to move our money around. One year, we might double down on one type of content, the next year it might be different, because we’re just reflecting what our needs are what we’re seeing as trends in what content what audiences really want to see.”

Upcoming Foxtel Group dramas include The Twelve, Upright, Colin from Accounts, while recent dramas have included Wentworth, The End and Love Me.

“I also think that we sometimes don’t get enough credit as a company and as a group for the hundreds of millions of dollars we spend every year on production. Yes, of course there’s Drama production. But all the work we do in Unscripted, all the work we do on live Sport…. hundreds of millions of dollars and 1000s and 1000s of jobs,” said Laing.

“So I think sometimes when we get whacked with the stick of ‘You don’t care about Australian production and the Australian production community,’ it’s actually not really being fair to what we spend. It’s focusing on this one change that we’ve been looking to achieve for very, I think, legitimate reasons.

“There’s no evidence that it really is going to mean that we’re gonna wind back what we do, because we’re in the business of making great content.

“It’s great to see some momentum in these new entrants coming in and saying, ‘We should get on board, Australian content seems to be incredibly popular!’ Fantastic. But that’s what we’ve been doing for 25 years.”

7 Responses

  1. Interesting that Ms Laing says “We are the only company with a regulated 10% media obligation. The streamers don’t have that. Free to Airs don’t have that.”

    Streamers, perhaps, but the (commercial) FTA sector has had all sorts of local content quotas/obligations applied at various levels against them since TV started, including current sub quotas for things like drama, children’s programming and regional news. I don’t think Foxtel can cry that they are being hard done by in being obligated to spend a minimum % on local drama.

  2. In the end it will be up to Foxtel how they choose to operate their business, whether it’s 5% or 10% it will be their money not the governments, and the bit about Foxtel arguing for more flexibility to spend on other genres indicates that they must have done some research of audience preferences, which I suspect used data from commercial FTA broadcasting. I would think it’s in the business interest of Foxtel to make original dramas, I’m sure that if money is tight some co-productions with Sky, CANAL+ iTV or the BBC could be looked into, Australia is a great location for film making and the global market for original serial and mini series productions is expanding not contracting.

    1. Everyone, even the ABC, does research in their ratings. They may be able to choose what to make, but for how long. FTA had local content quotas imposed, and they made popular sketch shows like Full Frontal and Fast Forward, soap operas and variety. So a premium drama points was imposed which favoured the production of high cost, short series drama, most of which fails to get renewed for a second season, and shutdown the production of what people wanted to watch. At the moment children’s quotas are going to be reinstated, even though parents will go to great lengths to stop their kids watching any children’s tv on commercial FTA. The points system still favours loss making, high cost short run drama which people aren’t watching. There has been a cap put on documentaries, because cheap documentaries are the most popular and most profitable option for the networks. The global streaming networks have produced lost of shows as they compete for subscribers, but quality and orginality…

    1. You will probably have noted that docos and reality TV is exponentially creeping into the paid streaming services content lists already. If Netflix start an advertising subsidized option to make subscriptions a little cheaper the difference between paid and FTA TV content may start becoming less obvious. Reality TV and documentary content will be a natural attraction for prospective advertisers.

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