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Australian documentary production SUMMARY

Number of titles, hours and total production budgets (current dollars*) for Australian documentaries, 1997/98–2014/15

Next update March 2017

Australia has produced more than 6,500 hours of documentaries since 1997/98, an average of 364 hours per year – 72 per cent by independent production companies and the rest inhouse by broadcasters.

Independent production companies have accounted for an average of 262 hours per year over the period.

The five years to 2011/12 saw independent documentary production reach new highs, averaging 311 hours (136 titles) produced and $111 million in total budgets annually, compared to the previous five years (2002/03–2006/07), with 232 hours (138 titles) and $63 million in total budgets annually. The upward trend of 2012/13 and 2013/14 continued in 2014/15, with all indicators above the averages for the previous five years.

This increase can be attributed to series production, which has risen from 145 hours per year (average 2002/03–2006/07) to 239 hours per year (average 2007/08–2011/12). The production of single documentaries has fallen, from 88 hours per year (average 2002/03–2006/07) to 71 hours (average 2007/08–2011/12). Series production in 2014/15 was up by 5 per cent on 2013/14.

Australian commercial, public and subscription broadcasters have produced an annual average of 102 hours since 1997/98. Inhouse production levels have been largely static, averaging 105 hours (62 titles) and $14 million in total budgets per year between 2002/03 and 2006/07, and 106 hours (56 titles) and $13 million per year between 2007/08 and 2011/12. The 2012/13 slate produced similar results to averages of the previous five years. In 2014/15, inhouse production was significantly lower than previous years, with 36 titles generating 82 hours produced; however, budgets remained the same at $13 million.

Hours made

Production budgets

   
Graph: Hours of Australian documentaries made. Table following provides the data.
Graph: Production budgets of Australian documentaries. Table following provides the data.

* Peak production years

Notes:

1997/98 to 2000/01:
Budget total for single titles boosted each year by the production of an IMAX documentary: Solarmax in 1997/98, Sydney: A Story of a City in 1998/99, Horses: The Story of Equus in 1999/00 and Australia: Land Beyond Time in 2000/01.

1999/00:
Boosted by titles made for the Centenary of Federation. Nine of the 12 documentary titles financed by the National Council for the Centenary of Federation were produced, as well as several major series, such as Australians at War (8 x 60 minutes), Journeys to the Ends of the Earth (13 x 60 minutes) and American Journey (13 x 60 minutes).

2003/04:
Peak in hours due to an increase in production of series, with several new reality-style series launched such as Desperately Seeking Sheila.

2007/08:
Included new series with high budgets and/or long running times such as Two in the Top End, Find My Family, Outback Wildlife Rescue, Voyage to the Planets and Snake Crusader, as well as the continuation of many series including Mythbusters, RSPCA Animal Rescue and Family Footsteps. This was also the year the Producer Offset came into effect, and the last year of operation for Screen Australia’s predecessor agencies, which boosted the number of titles in the slate with Federal Government funding (see Sources of finance and Federal Government funding for documentaries).

2010/11:
Similar to 2007/08, there was a continuation of several long running series. There were some high-cost series produced, including In Their Footsteps, Wild Australia and The Family.

2011/12:
Increase in production of high-cost single-episode documentaries, including those made for cinema release.

2013/14:
Decrease in production largely attributable to fewer single-episode, inhouse documentaries produced by the ABC and NITV, and production of the Seven Network’s inhouse documentaries beginning outside the period of analysis.

2014/15:
The production of inhouse singles fell even further, with one broadcaster producing significantly less titles than in previous years. Production of single titles in the independent sector remained static, while series production was significantly up on 2013/14 largely due to a higher than usual number of series returns.

SELECT THE DATE RANGE ARROW TO REVEAL DATA BY YEAR

  Single titles Series Total
No.
produced
Hours Production budgets ($m)* No.
produced
Hours Production budgets ($m)* No.
produced
Hours Production budgets ($m)*
Activity by production companies
1997/98–2001/02 
Annual average 129 105 30.3 21 79 15.7 150 184 46.0
2002/03–2006/07  
Annual average 102 88 27.2 36 145 35.5 138 232 62.7
2007/08–2011/12  
Annual average 79 71 36.3 57 239 74.6 136 311 110.9
2012/13–2014/15  
Annual av. 1997/98–2014/15 98 84 32.3 43 177.5 50.6 141 262 83.0
Total 1,768 1,520 581.2 773 3,195 913.5 2,541 4,715 1,494.7
Activity by broadcasters
1997/98–2001/02  
Annual average 41 27 2.7 16 78 9.0 57 106 11.6
2002/03–2006/07  
Annual average 49 29 3.3 13 76 10.9 62 105 14.2
2007/08–2011/12  
Annual average 43 27 3.4 14 78 9.6 56 106 13.0
2012/13–2014/15  
Annual av. 1997/98–2014/15 43 27 3.2 14 75 9.9 57 102 13.1
Total 765 488 58.2 255 1,353 177.3 1,020 1,841 235.4
Total documentary production
1997/98–2001/02  
Annual average 169 132 33.0 38 158 24.6 207 290 57.6
2002/03–2006/07  
Annual average 150 116 30.5 49 221 46.4 200 337 76.9
2007/08–2011/12  
Annual average 122 99 39.7 70 318 84.2 192 416 123.9
2012/13–2013/14  
Annual av. 1997/98–2014/15 141 112 35.5 57 253 60.6 198 364 96.1
Total 2,533 2,009 639.3 1,028 4,547 1,090.8 3,561 6,556 1,730.3

Source: Screen Australia.

Notes:
Figures may not total correctly due to rounding.
Duration calculated on actual running time of program in minutes rather than broadcast hours.
Figures are based on year when principal photography commenced; this also applies to series, even though series are often shot over more than one financial year.
Activity by broadcasters refers to productions where television broadcasters are the only production companies involved. Includes free-to-air and subscription broadcasters. Does not include subscription television channel content providers; these are included with production companies.
Includes Australian productions and productions with overseas partners where creative control is shared (ie with a mix of Australians in key creative positions).
Excludes magazine-format documentaries, current affairs, news, information programs, online documentaries, and corporate and training films/programs.
Figures for number of titles, hours and budgets include some estimates.
* Dollar value as per each year specified (ie not adjusted for inflation).

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