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Review of television production funding

Screen Australia released final guidelines for its new 'small screen' funding programs on 3 May 2011.

This followed the release of a draft blueprint in November 2010, an advance draft of documentary guidelines to AIDC delegates on 3 March 2011, and draft guidelines on 10 March 2011.

These guidelines represent the culmination of Screen Australia's review of television funding announced in mid 2010.

Key changes are outlined below.


Funding levels, licence fees and holdbacks

Draft guidelines:

  • Funding levels and minimum licence fees are generally in line with those proposed in the blueprint, with some small adjustments based on feedback.
  • Holdback requirements have been made more flexible. In most cases, the draft guidelines do not specify holdback periods between the first and any subsequent release. Screen Australia will expect an appropriate period to be negotiated by the producer.

FInal guidelines:

  • Provision for annual CPI increase to minimum licence fees included in General TV Drama guidelines.
  • No other changes relative to draft guidelines.

Foreign formats

Draft guidelines:

  • The blueprint argued that foreign formats should not be eligible for Screen Australia funding.  The draft guidelines state that "preference will be given to original formats over programs based on foreign formats", except in the National Documentary Program and Signature Documentary Program, where foreign formats are ineligible.

Final guidelines:

  • No changes relative to draft guidelines

Series funding

Draft guidelines:

  • In the context of managing scarce resources, the draft blueprint proposed that only the first two series of any production be funded. After consultation with the industry, Screen Australia has made this cap more flexible, by specifying it in terms of hours rather than number of episodes or series. Up to 26 broadcast hours of drama or documentary would be eligible for funding (which may include multiple series).

Final guidelines:

  • Clarification that the 26-hour maximum includes hours already funded as of 30 June 2011.

Children's television

Draft guidelines:

  • In recognition of the challenging environment of children's television programming and the requirement in the Screen Australia Act to place an emphasis on such programming, the guidelines have adopted a number of industry recommendations, namely that minimum licence fee conditions should be:
    - $100,000 per broadcast half hour for the first run
    - $15,000 per broadcast half hour for a second run if the second run is presold
  • Where each broadcaster pays the minimum licence fees above, the maximum holdback period would be 18 months.
  • Additionally, to allow for greater flexibility for producers, the guidelines propose that, as long as the total Australian minimum licence fee is $115,000 per broadcast half hour, no conditions or restrictions would apply to how the fee is constituted or to the holdback provisions.  This would provide producers with flexibility to negotiate a different balance of licence fees and holdbacks between different broadcasters.

Final guidelines:

  • Examples provided to clarify market attachment requirements for children's television.
  • No other changes.

Documentary programs offered

Draft guidelines:

In response to industry feedback, and acknowledging the particular dynamics of the international marketplace, the suite of documentary programs proposed in the blueprint has been re-configured to include:

  • A standalone international program, with a lower minimum domestic licence fee requirement, and an international presale comprising a minimum proportion of the budget.
  • Two domestic programs, with domestic presales required
    - the National Documentary Program
    - the General Documentary Program
  • A Signature Documentary Program (building on the Special Documentary Fund), without a requirement for a broadcaster attachment, with funding increased slightly to support individual creative vision and innovation

Final guidelines:

  • Changes to the budget requirements for promotions & marketing for subsequent hours of domestic (NDP and GDP) and international docuementaries.
  • Eligibility requirement for Documentary Development and Signature Documentary programs that credits must be at least six years old increased to 10 years.
  • Requirement that producers may make multiple applications to Signature Program as long as each project has a different director has been removed.
  • Reference to desirability of Signature Progam projects having a broadcast attachment has been removed.

Making History

Draft guidelines:

Making History funds have been rolled into the National Documentary Program. This means the Making History funds will be available to all broadcasters, including the ABC. Importantly, the National Documentary Program has a 'National History and Identity' core content area and this will ensure history programs of quality and ambition will continue to be made and broadcast across more platforms.

Final guidelines:

No changes.

Broadcaster allocations for documentary

Draft guidelines:

In the main, submissions advocated a return to indicative funding allocations between the ABC, SBS and others. It was generally felt that full contestability would create too many uncertainties for broadcasters and production companies

The draft guidelines propose that access to funds in the domestic programs (NDP and GDP) will be split between broadcasters, with an indicative allocation of 50 per cent to the ABC, 40 per cent to SBS and 10 per cent to 'other' including commercial broadcasters and subscription television channels. This allocation will be reviewed in two years based on track record of the broadcaster including historical delivery against any charter obligation, connection with audiences and critical acclaim.

The International and Signature programs are proposed to be fully contestable and not subject to broadcaster allocations.

Final guidelines:

No changes.

Investment decision-making

Draft guidelines:

For both drama and documentary, many submissions argued that Screen Australia should consider projects based on the strength of broadcast attachment only, arguing that it is the broadcasters "who possess channel strategies and an intimate understanding of audience tastes".

However, Screen Australia has obligations under the Screen Australia Act 2008, which charges us to:

"... support and promote the development of a highly creative, innovative and commercially sustainable Australian screen production industry;" and

"... ensure the development of a diverse range of Australian programs that deal with matters of national interest or importance to Australians, or that illustrate or interpret aspects of Australia or the life and activities of Australian people." 

Screen Australia must therefore consider criteria other than marketplace attachment alone when deciding how to invest its limited funds.

To provide more clarity around the process, we have taken the opportunity to incorporate into the guidelines the principles that will underpin our investment decision-making and slate management. These principles acknowledge the expertise of the broadcasters in connecting with audiences and the importance of consulting with both producers and broadcasters in developing the year's slate of projects, while reserving the right to make investment decisions based on published criteria that reflect the requirements of the Act.

Final guidelines:

No changes.

All Media Programs

Final guidelines:

  • Clarification that games support is only provided to games intended for digital distribution.
  • Additional asssessment criterion for Digital Ignition program: "The project's potential to deliver what it sets out to achieve (i.e. entertainment, commercial success), based on appropriate measurable indicators".
  • Clarification that in addition to both drama and documentary interactive projects, All Media Production covers innovative linear drama projects (Signature Documentary Program is particularly aimed at innovative linear factual projects.)
  • Addition of "community-building strategies and transmedia bibles" to delivery requirements for Digital Ignition.
  • Turnaround time for application decisions changed to 10 weeks.