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Part 8: Distributor DCD Rights' interest in Australian drama

DCD Rights handles sales on many Australian dramas, including The Slap from Matchbox Pictures, The Code from Playmaker Media, and Rake, Jack Irish Season One and The Principal from Essential Media and Entertainment. Once she has summarised DCD’s history in Australia, Nicky Davies Williams discusses the performance of each one.

"On a scale of one to 10, DCD Rights’ interest in Australian drama is a 10"

<h6>Nicky Davies Williams</h6><p>CEO, DCD Rights</p>
Nicky Davies Williams

CEO, DCD Rights

The relationship began in 2009

“DCD Rights is part of DCD Media, a London-based AIM listed business. (AIM is the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market for smaller growing companies.) DCD Rights has a staff of 16 and a growing catalogue that now contains more than 3,000 hours of drama, factual and music programming, mostly from the UK, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

“The establishment of Screen Australia in 2008 coincided with DCD Rights striking a major funding deal for acquisitions. This allowed us to meet and start fruitful relationships with a broad range of Australian producers in 2009. This was the genesis of a very strong Australian drama catalogue.

“The first series we signed up were The Slap, Rake and The Straits, all of which have sold well and showcase the top end of the skillset we have found amongst the Australian production community. We subsequently acquired a broad range of drama and comedy from Australia and New Zealand, including The Code, Jack IrishSeason One, The Principal and Deep Water. We have been proud to represent more edgy drama such as Devil’s Dust and The Gods of Wheat Street, as well as the lighter hearted Utopia (under the title Dreamland), A Moody Christmas and The Strange Calls. Our experience has been a good one and we continue to build on existing relationships and make new connections.

“A strong collaboration with all the producers of the dramas I’m going to discuss has been key to sales. It is important to the sales process to be able to target key buyers with access to scripts, then take them on the journey of cast confirmations, early trailers or key scenes footage and production information. Strong key art is also of great benefit. It enables us to promote heavily at international markets, including on stand displays, and in brochures and other advertising materials.”

“We pride ourselves on ensuring that each and every one of the dramas we take on gets care and attention from the acquisition, marketing and sales teams. What is our interest in Australian drama on a scale of one to 10? I would make this a 10.”

The Code : universal subjects struck a chord

“We were excited by the quality of the writing and imagination in this script by Shelley Birse. The context of an international security threat around the issue of cyber security and invasion of privacy, alongside potential corruption of government, were truly universal subjects that strike a chord around the world. It also demonstrated a clear differential in that the backdrop of the outback was unfamiliar and an example of the benefits of using a more unusual landscape. In addition, it was a tale of two brothers and their difficult relationship, and this gave it very human and appealing qualities that fitted well with viewers and held ratings around the world.

“Playmaker’s willingness to broaden the world appeal with a name actress of the stature of Lucy Lawless, was complimented by a strong cast.

“All of these elements, alongside a growing track record of key Australian drama sales, allowed us to finesse presales to the Sundance international channels, and work up sales with scripts and trailers to ARTE and the BBC as production progressed. The combination of these key elements also contributed to sales to some of the Scandinavian networks that had been reluctant to take Australian drama, including Danmarks Radio and RUV Iceland. Ratings on the BBC were on average 720,000 which we were very pleased with.”

Jonathan LaPaglia in <em>The Slap</em> Jonathan LaPaglia in The Slap

The Slap : water cooler credentials

“This drama never failed to create heated debate among our sales and acquisitions teams, which we felt was an indication of its water cooler credentials and universality. Our concern was that there was nothing like it on the market and we would need familiar names to cut through as an Australian production. It was a time when few Australian dramas had cut through other than the soaps.

“Matchbox Pictures’ willingness to collaborate was a big bonus. Their ability to respect the network lead in casting decisions but enhance the production for all of us with cast of the likes of Melissa George, Sophie Okonedo and Jonathan LaPaglia allowed us to get past the door with drama buyers around the world, which would not have been possible otherwise. Beyond that, the fact that it was based on a best-selling book helped. The cast, along with the strong script, enabled us to make that first crucial sale to the BBC – a first for Australian drama at that time – reassuring European buyers that this was a highly credible drama. Sales to ARTE in France and Germany and to virtually every territory worldwide followed, including to DirecTV in the US.

The Slap aired at 9pm on Saturday nights on BBC Four and gleaned BAFTA and Broadcast Award nominations. Ratings were 729,000 on average with very high audience appreciation.

“Getting sales before the show was delivered was tough, but Sundance Channel Global (See here) came in early on, following the BBC. DirecTV read all the scripts and expressed serious interest early on, but waited for episode one before committing. The track record of Australian drama is considerably stronger now. The second series of The Code was virtually 70 per cent sold after commissioning and casting but prior to delivery.

“There was a format sale to NBCUniversal in the US (the US company now fully owns Matchbox) – and a network series was made – but we held back agreeing to that deal until after all the key sales of the original were made. Having worked with the team who crafted and produced such a high quality drama we felt that it should premiere around the world prior to a format sale. News of a format pickup, especially involving an American network, can damage sales potential if announced too early because some of the major networks will want to wait and see the format version prior to buying the original. This can take time and it is possible for the original to lose its sales window to competing shows. We did not want to risk that with such a strong show.”

Guy Pearce in the <em>Jack Irish series</em> Guy Pearce in the Jack Irish series

Rake : the unique tone was a positive and a negative

“We bought into Rake very early on and it was the wit and cleverness of the writing of the synopsis, alongside Richard Roxburgh being attached from the outset, which cemented our decision to make an offer. It has been an enjoyable journey following the lead character Cleaver Green’s exploits throughout the series.

“Series one was delivered to us in September 2010 and the Sundance international network bought the show in January of that year. The sale to Sundance and, later, to DirecTV in the US, set up the sales structure that was then filled in with further sales as the marketing of the first series progressed.

“The series had great scripts by the time it was shooting. Both buyers fed back their enthusiasm for these scripts early on in the process – with the caveat that they needed recognizable names. Essential delivered brilliantly on this with key talent for cameo roles including Cate Blanchett, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, Noah Taylor, Rachel Griffiths and Toni Collette over the multiple series. They have been a strong locomotive for both American and international audiences. The show’s numerous Australian awards have allowed us to have constant communication with buyers with these endorsements and that has been valuable.

“The positive and negative aspect of Rake is its unique tone. The satire was less attractive to channels that were rating heavily with dark crime but it was much more attractive to American audiences who felt at home with the style of dramedy balanced with the darker aspects of Rake himself but set in the sunnier climes of Sydney. Rake has continued to thrive on Netflix and Hulu as well as networks around the world. We can’t give you audience numbers because the key platforms that play Rake do not give out ratings data.

“Essential managed the US format which was helpful initially, but thereafter the situation needed to be managed with positive news to draw buyers back to the sparkle of the original show whilst the Fox format played out.”

Jack Irish : the Australian launch helped

“Geo political thrillers fit well into international markets, but the superb writing and depth of character in Jack Irish offered so much more to draw audiences into this series. Jack’s sidelines – the racing world, cabinet making, the local pub – coupled with a broken past, engendered an immediate connection with buyers and audiences overseas that enabled us to set up a broad footprint of sales at an early stage.

“With a new series the Australian premiere is always important, and the ratings and press from the ABC launch gave us ammunition to fuel the interest in the series, although the base sales were largely in place prior to delivery.

“The series premiered on Fox in the UK to very positive feedback and ratings. We very much appreciated Guy Pearce making himself available for telephone interviews to promote the series for Fox and this undoubtedly boosted its visibility as well as increasing goodwill with the channel. Part of our sales activity is to agree on promotional support for new series with channels where possible, so key cast availability and willingness is of great value to us. Dazzler will release the DVD in the UK.

“This is a relatively new series to us but we already have sales in the US, Latin America, Far East, France, Spain and Eastern Europe.” (DCD Rights are handling the series but ZDF Enterprises represent the first three telemovies.)

The Principal : it helped that buyers knew the key cast

The Principal is an inner city school drama with the very universal theme of the merging of cultures and that made it attractive to world audiences. Alex Dimitriades was known to our buyers through his stellar performance in The Slap and he provided an intensity and power on screen that was brilliantly offset by Aden Young’s role as a police detective.

“Aden’s US credits from (SundanceTV’s) Rectify sparked interest among the Sundance international channels, which took first window in many territories, and we found a good partner in Netflix, which also bought first window for the US and will distribute to the rest of the world in 14 languages after Sundance. With The Principal, we also found Series Mania to be a helpful showcase for the series, and Alex Dimitriades was invited to speak to audiences there.” (The Series Mania Festival is an annual event held in France and entirely dedicated to the international production of television series.)