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Part 1: the standout TV dramas for grownups

The Kettering Incident led the pack, but Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was snapping at its heels.

Focussing in on just the data for 2017, more net returns flowed from the eight-part series The Kettering Incident to investors than from any other television drama with investment from Screen Australia – excluding children’s drama.

The moody mystery drama from Porchlight Films and Sweet Potato Films headed the 2017 top 10 below whether Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) net returns were lumped in with rest of world (ROW) or not. (ANZ sales only added between $5K and $110K for the year to each of the dramas in the line-up.)

One production company, Matchbox Pictures, had three dramas in the top 10: Deadline Gallipoli, which was produced with Full Clip Productions, Wanted series 1, which was produced with R & R Productions, and The Slap.

Every Cloud Productions had two series of the same drama, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, in the list, in the second and third spots.

Half of the top 10 screened locally on ABC TV.

Actual net returns back to investors cannot be reported against individual projects for reasons of confidentiality, but the total from ROW for all 10 in 2017 was $2.93 million. It rises to $3.05 million with ANZ added.


Based on net returns from rest of world (ROW) #

Duration in hours**
First Australian distribution platform
Year funded by Screen Australia^
International sales
Production company/COMPANies
1 The Kettering Incident 8 Foxtel Showcase 2013/14 BBC Worldwide Porchlight Films, Sweet Potato Films
2 Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series 1 13 ABC 2010/11 All3Media International Every Cloud Productions
3 Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series 2 13 ABC 2012/13 All3Media International Every Cloud Productions
4 Deadline Gallipoli 4 Foxtel Showcase 2013/14 NBC Universal International Television Distribution Matchbox Pictures, Full Clip Productions
5 Top of the Lake series 1 6 BBC UKTV 2011/12 BBC Worldwide See-Saw Films, Escapade Pictures (NZ)
6 Wanted series 1 6 Seven 2015/16 NBC Universal Matchbox Pictures, R & R Productions
7 Secrets & Lies 6 Ten 2012/13 Cineflix Rights Hoodlum
8 The Code series 1 6 ABC 2012/13 DCD Rights Playmaker Media
9 The Slap 8 ABC 2010/11 DCD Rights Matchbox Pictures
10 The Doctor Blake Mysteries series 1 10 ABC 2011/12 ITV Studios Global Entertainment December Media

# Returns flow from sales made once production commences; they do not include presales, which go towards the production budget. Net returns are after commissions have been deducted, expenses and DGs repaid, and taxes paid.

** The different requirements of Australian distribution platforms means one “hour” is between 43 and 60 minutes.

^ Since opening for business on 1 July 2008 through to the end of 2017, Screen Australia has invested in 103 dramas that have attracted sales – excluding dramas that received grants and children’s drama. All 103 dramas were considered for this list.

* Click on the title to see, via The Screen Guide, where to watch each drama.

"As a group, the top 10 dramas have notched up a total of 340 rest of world (ROW) sales valued at nearly $70 million … and that amount boiled down to a net return of $20 million for investors."

The criterion used to determine this top 10 was net returns to investors in calendar year 2017. Wanted series 1 is the most successful of the 10 when a different criteria is applied, namely the value of sales signed off during 2017 – because rights to Wanted were sold to a very major territory. The Kettering Incident sold to the most territories during that period however. (Payments usually arrive long after sales contracts are signed, delaying the flow of net returns to investors.)

As a group, the top 10 dramas have notched up a total of 340 rest of world (ROW) sales valued at nearly $70 million since first becoming available to buyers – and that amount boiled down to a net return of $20 million for investors.

Top of the Lake series 1 has attracted the most sales in its lifetime and those sales are worth double the value of the sales of any of the other nine dramas. (It made a lot less sales in 2017 than the other nine according to Screen Australia data.)

How a television drama performs abroad each year has a lot to do with where it is in its sales cycle. A lot of buzz early on augurs well.

Further series were recommissioned in six out of 10 cases. US versions were sparked by two of the four not recommissioned, being The Slap and Secrets & Lies (more information on format sales is here) – the other two were The Kettering Incident and Deadline Gallipoli.

A big range of factors affect sales: buyers smile upon volume, for example, or when they know volume is coming; a buzz develops around television dramas shown at film festivals or directed by film directors; edginess of content can be a positive.

Here’s more information about 2017’s top 10 dramas:

  • The budgets range from $920,000 to $3.4 million per hour.
  • The distributors’ commission on all television sales ranged from 20% to 30%; expenses were capped at 5% of gross receipts received by the distributor for eight of the dramas and 10% for two.
  • Screen Australia’s per hour investment ranged from about $100K to $275K; total investment in the individual dramas ranged from $750K to $1.86 million.

Most of the productions are also likely to have received tax rebates via the Producer Offset (PO). Screen Australia administers the PO.