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documentary production
Activity Summary

Number of titles, hours and total production budgets (current dollars*) for Australian documentaries, 1997/98–2019/20

Next update 2022


The impact of COVID on documentary production during the 2019/20 financial year resulted in at least 30 documentary projects having to alter schedules, release dates, budgets or shooting locations and in some cases impacted on their overall narrative. The documentary sector was resilient and most SA supported projects were still able to proceed during or after lockdowns.

  • Nineteen documentary projects received Screen Australia COVID support to assist with additional costs caused by the pandemic.

  • Twelve Screen Australia-supported projects (six singles, six series) originally scheduled to go into production during 2019/20 were pushed into 2020/21.

  • Four Screen Australia-supported projects that were scheduled for production in 2019/20 were unable to go ahead due to COVID related complications.

Australia has produced more than 9,100 hours of documentaries since 1997/98, an average of 396 hours per year – 75% by independent production companies and the rest in-house by broadcasters.

Independent production companies have accounted for an average of 299 hours per year over the period.

In the five years to 2019/20 independent documentary production averaged 419 hours (164 titles) produced and $175 million in total budgets annually.

In general, series production has been a driver in increased production levels, rising from 278 hours per year (average 2010/11–2014/15) to 336 hours per year (average 2015/16–2019/20).

The production of single-title documentaries has remained steady in terms of hours, with 83 hours per year (average 2015/16–2019/20). The number of single-title documentaries produced in 2019/20 rose from the previous year contributing to 56% of total independent production, compared to 45% in 18/19.

Australian commercial, public and subscription broadcasters have produced an annual average of 97 hours since 1997/98. In-house production levels had been largely static for each of the five-year periods between 1997/98 and 2014/15.  Each five-year period between 2015/16 and 2019/20 has seen a steady decline in numbers and hours, with cost per hour in that same period gradually increasing.