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Federal government funding for documentaries

Number of titles with Federal Government funding for documentary development and production through Screen Australia and the Producer Offset

Number of titles with Federal Government funding by budget range, 2007/08–2014/15
Producer Offset activity  |  Cashflowing the Offset

Next update March 2017 

The Federal Government provides direct funding for documentaries through Screen Australia and indirect funding through the Australian Screen Production Incentive. The federal funding landscape has undergone substantial change in recent years. Screen Australia was created from the merging of the Australian Film Commission, the Film Finance Corporation and Film Australia in July 2008, and the Australian Screen Production Incentive, comprising three streams – the Producer Offset, Location Offset and Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) Offset – was introduced in 2008, superseding earlier incentives such as 10BA. In addition, SBS Independent (SBSi), which commissioned Australian documentaries from the independent sector for screening on SBS, was incorporated into SBS’s Content (Television and Online) Division in 2007/08 and so no longer received separate funding.

Over the last eight years, Screen Australia provided finance (with or without the Producer Offset) to documentaries covering all budget ranges. Most Offset documentaries also had Screen Australia finance. Documentaries with ‘qualifying Australian production expenditure’ (QAPE) under $250,000 per hour are ineligible for the Producer Offset. Many titles in the <$250k/hr budget range without government funding were documentaries made inhouse by the broadcasters.

Administered by Screen Australia, the Producer Equity Program (PEP) was introduced in July 2011 for low-budget documentaries (ie with budgets of $500,000 or less) to replace the Producer Offset. Under PEP, producers of eligible Australian documentaries can receive a direct payment of funds equal to 20 per cent of the approved budget. The program has contributed 1 per cent of total funding in each of its three years in operation: 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15.

Number of titles with Federal Government funding by budget range, 2007/08–2014/15

Graph: Federal funding by budget range, 2007/08-2013/14. table following provides the data.
  Screen Australia1 and Producer Offset Screen Australia1 only Producer Offset only None Total
Total 319 223 180 805 1,527
<$250,000/hr 0 48 0 756 804
$250,000 to $500,000/hr 123 128 131 44 426
$500,000 to $1million/hr 156 43 36 5 240
>$1million/hr 40 4 13 0 57

Source: Screen Australia

Notes: Includes Australian productions and productions with overseas partners where creative control is shared (ie with a mix of Australians in key creative positions).
Includes inhouse productions.
1. Screen Australia includes predecessor agencies. Includes funding through the Producer Equity Program for 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14 and 2014/15.


Producer Offset activity

The Producer Offset is available to producers of projects with ‘significant Australian content’ or official co-productions. This tax rebate is paid through the Australian production company’s income tax return once the project is completed. It is worth 20 per cent of QAPE for eligible non-feature documentaries that meet the ‘qualifying Australian production expenditure’ (QAPE) threshold.

The number of non-Offset single titles significantly increased in 2011/12 primarily due to a shift from the Producer Offset to the Producer Equity Program (see Number of titles with Federal Government funding by budget range for definition).

Between 2007/08 and 2014/15, projects accessing the Producer Offset accounted for 33 per cent of documentary titles and 66 per cent of total documentary production budgets.

Over the same period, Offset documentaries averaged $554,000 per hour, more than triple the cost of non-Offset productions ($174,000 per hour).

Proportion of Offset documentaries in the production slate, 2007/08–2014/15

Graph: Proportion of Offset documentaries in the production slate, 2007/08-2014/15. Table following provides the data.

Notes: Includes inhouse productions.


  Producer Offset titles1 Non-Offset titles2
No. produced Hours Production budgets ($m) Av. cost/hr ($m) No. produced Hours Production budgets ($m) Av. cost/hr ($m)
5-yr average 66 150 79 0.527 127 266 45 0.168
5-yr average 34 34 27 0.793 88 65 13 0.199
5-yr average 31 117 53 0.450 39 201 32 0.157

Source: Screen Australia

Figures may not total correctly due to rounding.
Figures for number of titles, hours and budgets include some estimates.
Duration is 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.
1. Those titles that have been issued with a Provisional and/or Final Offset certificate.
2. Those titles that have no Offset Certificate. Generally, those that for reasons such as format, level of production expenditure or use of previous tax incentives would not be eligible for the Producer Offset.


Cashflowing the Offset

As producers can only access the Producer Offset once the project is completed, they need to cashflow the portion of the budget that comprises the Offset.

Over the first eight years of the operation of the Offset, the main source of Offset cashflow for documentaries has been the film/TV industry, where production companies and broadcasters cover the Offset contribution from their own funds, including any overdraft facilities. Several specialised funds have also been established, focusing specifically on providing Offset cashflow

Proportion of Producer Offset value cashflowed through various sources, 2007/08–2014/15

Graph: Proportion of Producer Offset cashflowed through various sources. Table following provides the data.
  Cashflow source Total
Goverment (inc. state agencies) Film/TV industry Specialised funds Private/bank loans Unknown
No. titles Offset value ($m) No. titles Offset value ($m) No. titles Offset value ($m) No. titles Offset value ($m) No. titles Offset value ($m) No. titles Offset value ($m)
5-yr average 8 2 35 7 1 1 9 3 12 2 66 15

Source: Screen Australia

Some titles cashflowed the Offset through more than one source, so figures for number of titles do not always total.
Figures may not total exactly due to rounding.