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International TV sales snapshot for 2017

The data reveals which dramas – that Screen Australia invested in – attracted the most returns to investors and which companies bought up big.

Australian television drama has critical, cultural, commercial and maybe even cult value. This discussion focusses on the commercial worth of drama – in 2017 – that was supported by Screen Australia, principally from the point of view of investors.

The Federal Government agency has invested in adult and children’s television drama, alongside others, for nearly a decade. Up to the end of 2017 there were 138 projects on the books and attracting sales. During calendar year 2017 alone, these projects clocked up a total of 108 sales worth $27.8 million to international distribution platforms (excluding New Zealand).

All the Australian drama made in the last decade is likely to be attracting more than $100 million worth of sales annually given that the $27.8 million only covers projects with Screen Australia investment and, roughly speaking, Screen Australia currently invests in about 30% of drama made for grownups and 15% of that made for children.*

Don’t think for a second that all $27.8 million from the 2017 sales will find its way to investors. Big chunks will be spent on: meeting distributors’ commissions and repaying their marketing and other expenses; paying taxes; and particularly early on in the sales cycle, paying back the distribution guarantees that were cash flowed into the production budgets.

Net returns to investors were $9.8 million in 2017 but this would have been from pre-2017 sales of supported drama – returns usually filter through only after a show is aired. Net returns are growing year on year: in 2012 they were $2.3 million. This is to be expected because the number of productions available for sale is constantly increasing and drama can have a long life. Revenue potential is highest from international markets and some would argue that Australian producers have a growing interest in designing content that capitalises on this to ensure their sustainability.

This snapshot is like slicing through just one aspect of Australia’s engagement with the big, complex international television sales business and seeing what’s revealed. (And it updates what’s here.) It names the drama that delivered the most net revenue as well as the international companies that splashed around the most cash. It also includes an interview with Jonathan M Shiff, who produced Mako Mermaids/Mako: Island of Secrets, which was top of the pops in 2017 on the criterion used.

* As mentioned, Screen Australia currently invests in about 30% of drama made for grownups and 15% of that made for children.That said, because it also provides grants, Screen Australia actually directly supports more Australian drama than implied: 60% of that made for grownups and 35% of that made for children in the two years up to June 30, 2017. Grant projects could not be included in this snapshot of sales, sales revenue and returns to investors because the agency only tracks the performance of investment projects. Also, many third, fourth and fifth series of dramas would not have got off the ground without a kick start from Screen Australia – drama is no longer eligible for direct agency funding once 26 hours’ worth have received funding. The first 65 hours of a drama, however, can claim tax rebates through the Producer Offset, which most drama claims. Without both forms of Federal Government support and without regulation, the level of local drama available to Australians may be negligible. Screen Australia’s annual drama reports list all dramas that go into production; its annual reports list which have Screen Australia support. Drama destined for online services is not included in this discussion.