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Australian drama production exceeds records again

Screen Australia has tracked the vital signs of drama production in another record year.

As we celebrate record theatrical box office and great audiences for local TV and digital content, Screen Australia is releasing the latest production activity figures, tracking TV dramas and films that started shooting in Australia in 2014/15, some of which is yet to hit our screens. The Drama Report data is in its 25th year, monitoring the health of the industry through measures of hours, spend and sources of finance.

Overall expenditure on drama was $837m, down just 1% on last year’s record high. TV drama is coming off the high watermark of the previous few years, and drama spend and hours are down as broadcasters deal with straightened times and new competitors. The commercial free-to-air broadcasters remain the largest financiers of TV drama, even though their contribution reduced this year. Direct government investment continued to underpin a large proportion of the slate, with Screen Australia alone contributing $21m to supporting 47% of all TV drama titles

“Australian TV drama is hugely popular and we’re seeing fantastic audiences for programs like Catching Milat, Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door and House of Hancock” said Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason, “It is, however, very expensive to produce, especially when weighed up against the cost of cheap American imports. With much more competition in the SVOD environment further fragmenting audiences, government incentives to produce local content will be more important than ever. Support for Australian stories is crucial to maintaining the great cultural dividends we’re seeing for audiences across all platforms,” he said.

TV hours for adult drama were down in 2014/15, as most programs had duration of 10 hours or less. The 2014/15 period did include returning seasons such as Winners and Losers (Seven) and Love Child (Nine) as well as new titles including The Beautiful Lie and The Secret River and the yet to be aired Cleverman, (all ABC) The Principal (SBS) and the upcoming The Kettering Incident (Foxtel).  Subscription television finance had its highest recorded contribution to the TV drama slate, including the series Open Slather. With ABC drama production still strong and three new SBS titles, the industry is yet to see the impact of the Federal Government’s budget cuts to the public broadcasters.

Children’s TV spend was up this year, and hours declined, although quotas for the broadcast of local children’s programming on the commercial free-to -air networks ensure a balance of production over time.

With the introduction of Video-on-Demand (VOD) services, there was a growth in professionally-produced drama content being created for online release. Titles that are 60 minutes or more in total and made for Catch-up or Subscription VOD are captured for the first time in the data of this report, including No Activity and Plonk Series 2 (both Stan).

While the local feature film slate remained steady, with 35 films starting production including Red Dog: True Blue and Lion, 2014/15 has been a gap year for studio backed Australian films like Great Gatsby or Mad Max: Fury Road.   There are several films in the pipeline, including Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, which will see this gap filled again in coming years. The Producer Offset was the biggest finance source for Australian features, followed by direct government sources of which Screen Australia is the primary contributor ($18m for 20 features).

We're seeing a record in foreign spend in Australia ($418m), predominantly due to blockbuster titles Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and the two LEGO® Movie spin-offs. Pirates was the beneficiary of a special additional incentive for production in Australia, and Animal Logic was able to secure further films in the LEGO® franchise following the commercial and critical success of 2014’s The LEGO® Movie. The recent announcement that both Ridley Scott’s untitled Alien project and Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok will be filmed in Australia, has ensured foreign feature expenditure is off to a great start in 2016.

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason said “While this year was lacking the spike of a big studio-backed Australian feature, the heartbeat of the industry is strong for features even in the context of an ever-more challenging market. In TV we should be delighted with strong audiences but mindful of the vital signs, keeping a keen eye on the ongoing health of the sector as the pressures increase on networks.” 

Check out the full report