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PART 1: A LOT CAN CHANGE IN 10 YEARS AND FINANCING TV DRAMA SURE HAS

Screen Australia’s data paints a picture of a typical recent year of production compared with ten years ago.

The television business has undergone some radical transformations over the last decade, particularly in relation to the ways in which content is delivered and viewed. But what does that mean for producers of TV dramas and comedies looking to finance their programs and generate some revenue?

Here we draw on Screen Australia’s data on production of adult TV drama (including comedy) to paint a picture of a typical recent year of production compared with ten years ago. Combined with a summary of recoupment data for TV dramas financed by Screen Australia (and the Film Finance Corporation before it), this analysis puts the numbers on the table to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities for today’s TV producers.

Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries series 2

SETTING THE SCENE

2002/03 - 2004/05

A decade ago Australia had five free-to-air channels, 30 subscription channels and the popularity of the DVD box-set was on the rise. If you missed your favourite program and forgot to set the VCR… tough luck. Australian audiences had to wait more than four months to see the first episode of Lost following its US broadcast.

Australian Idol and Big Brother were topping the TV ratings, along with live sport. Popular foreign dramas included Lost, Desperate Housewives and CSI. Not far behind in the ratings were Australian dramas such as Kath & Kim, The Alice and McLeod’s Daughters. Movies could draw viewers in too – top-raters included Charlie’s Angels and The Sixth Sense, and local films Looking for Alibrandi and The Wog Boy.

2011/12 - 2013/14

Fast-forward to the last few years and 11 multi-channels plus catch-up services have been added to the five main free-to-air channels. There are now more than 130 subscription channels and a growing number of subscription video-on demand (SVOD) services. New devices enable multiple recordings while watching another program. Series linking of programs lets you set and forget and never miss an episode. And you can watch on your laptop, tablet or smartphone (or all three at once). We now have ‘fast-tracking’ of US series to Australian TV, and series stacking on catch-up and SVOD services facilitates binge viewing. But live viewing is still the main way to watch, and ‘event’ television still dominates the ratings – these days MKR and The Voice along with live sport. Australian dramas are now big ratings-winners, regularly out-performing imported dramas.

All Saints

PRODUCTION SNAPSHOT - THEN AND NOW

Average annual production trends

Production for the public broadcasters (ABC, SBS and NITV) has doubled over the last decade, mainly due to extra funding for the ABC as part of its 2009–12 triennial funding agreement.

Across public and commercial networks, production of series with 20 to 50 episodes per year has declined in favour of shorter-running mini-series of 8 to 10 episodes.

The half-hour comedy format, a large part of the public broadcasters’ offerings a decade ago, is even stronger now. A handful of telemovies are still made annually for free-to-air television and the subscription broadcasting sector is commissioning more Australian drama.

McLeod's Daughters

Rake

Cost of production: Then and now

Average cost per hour

2002/03-2004/05

2011/12-2013/14

Series $369,000 $748,000
Mini-series $2,000,000 $1,200,000
Telemovies $1,600,000 $1,900,000

*Current dollars - not adjusted for inflation.

FINANCING: THEN AND NOW

2002/03 to 2004/05

Ten years ago, most TV drama was financed via two main models – either fully financed by the broadcaster or using a combination of broadcaster and direct government finance (the Film Finance Corporation and/or state film agencies). Other local industry sources, private investment and foreign finance were used, but with few exceptions these sources contributed relatively small proportions of a program’s budget. The exceptions were that occasionally a program had a large injection of foreign money. And the Film License Investment Corporation (FLIC) program brought high levels of private investment to a small number of programs.

2011/12 to 2013/14

Now, only one program in ten is fully financed by the primary broadcaster (with or without the Producer Offset). For the other nine, the broadcaster generally contributes the majority of finance. Seven out of ten programs use direct government sources these days (Screen Australia and/or the state agencies). Most TV dramas are using the Producer Offset, and it’s contributing an average of 17 per cent of the budget. The use of foreign finance is similar to last decade, and private finance is rare. But it’s more common for local industry finance to be in the mix. This mainly comes from producers or production companies, but may also be from distributors or secondary broadcasters.

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Catching Milat
 

Based on typical annual production levels and financing arrangements for the years specified, using data from Screen Australia’s annual Drama Report

Revenue for FFC and Screen Australia funded TV dramas

The following information on revenue reported for FFC and Screen Australia funded dramas gives a picture of the types of revenue streams for Australian TV drama, and how they’ve changed over the last decade.

Revenue sources for Australian TV drama include sales to additional territories and/or for additional platforms such as DVD, airlines or more recently, video-on-demand (such as pay-per-view, electronic sell-through, subscription VOD or ‘near’ VOD*

These sales do not necessarily equate with revenue to the producer or other rights-holders. Any marketplace finance provided to the project – such as upfront payment or guarantee from a sales agent – will need to be repaid from sales revenue and in accordance with the specific deals in place.

Individual sales may cover a single right – such as free-to-air broadcast in a single country – or may cover multiple rights and/or multiple territories

*Pay-per-view delivery offering content at staggered start times.

2002/03 to 2004/05

International buyers of TV dramas 10 years ago generally bought all TV rights or all home entertainment rights as a package. At that time video-on-demand and other digital rights were almost always incorporated in ‘all rights’ deals as buyers secured these rights for future exploitation even though they may not have been used at the time.

Of the 224 separate sales of FFC-financed TV dramas made during the three years 2002/03 to 2004/05, there was only one sale for a single platform other than TV (a pay-per-view sale to Orbit Communications in the Middle East).

Revenue from the sale of rights varied widely, depending on the buyer, the market, the combination of rights acquired and the appeal of the program. Sales for titles during this period ranged from $342 to $122,000 per hour.

Separate DVD rights were sold for 22 programs from the period, ranging from $299 to $36,000 per hour.

2011/12 to 2013/14

Ten years later many home entertainment and TV sales for Screen Australia-financed programs still incorporate various forms of video-on-demand rights.

Transactional VOD (pay-per-view, electronic sell-through) was almost always incorporated into deals for all home entertainment rights during the three years 2011/12 to 2013/14. Subscription VOD was almost always incorporated into deals for all TV rights. Pay TV deals in particular have tended to include VOD rights.

However with the introduction of new VOD services in Australia and around the world, an increasing number of programs have made separate VOD sales. Of the 363 sales of Screen Australia-funded TV dramas made during this time 61 sales (or 17 per cent) were to VOD platforms only. The majority were subscription VOD sales.

The majority of income from VOD sales related to subscription VOD, and revenue from other types of VOD was minimal. Prices paid for VOD rights ranged from $279 to $132,000 per hour.

Revenue for the sale of rights has continued to vary depending on the buyer, the market, the combination of rights sold and the program. During this period they ranged from $85 to $147,000 per hour.

Separate DVD rights were sold for 22 programs from the period, ranging from $647 to $125,000 per hour.

Based on information provided to the FFC and Screen Australia about all post-financing sales of supported programs produced during the specified period. Includes post-financing sales to buyers in Australia and New Zealand. Programs made in the later period may continue to generate additional sales for several more years.

All figures are reported in Australian dollars. Foreign currency sales were converted to USD at the average rate for that currency over 2 year period.