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Part 2: the standout TV dramas for children

Series one of Mako Mermaids is a big hit abroad – and not just in the children’s drama space. The financial data proves it.

Looking only at calendar year 2017, Mako Mermaids, or Mako: Island of Secrets as it’s known in Australia, delivered more net returns to investors from overseas buyers than any other television drama that Screen Australia has invested in over the agency’s lifetime.

The 2017 result for the fantasy series was better than not just the other 34 children’s dramas on the agency’s books, but also the 103 dramas that have been made with grownups in mind.

Mako first screened on Australian television (Ten) in 2013 and is a spin-off of Jonathan M Shiff Productions’ H2O: Just Add Water. The third series of H20 came in third on the children’s drama top five list below.

Wedged between them in second spot is Nowhere Boys from Matchbox Pictures, the only production company to have dramas in both this list and the list of top 10 dramas for grownups.

Mako, H20 and Nowhere Boys came out on top despite doing no sales in 2017: as explained in Part 1, net returns usually start to flow in a long time after sales contracts are signed. Of the top five, the value of the international sales attracted by both Mako and H20 since being made available to buyers, is highest.

Actual net returns back to investors cannot be reported against individual projects for reasons of confidentiality, but the total from rest of world (ROW) for all five in 2017 was $2.11 million, rising to $2.34 million if the proceeds of the Australian and New Zealand (ANZ) sales are added.


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

(Duration in half hours**)
First Australian distribution platform
Year funded by Screen Australia^
International sales
Production company/COMPANies
1 Mako Mermaids series 1 26 Ten 2011/12 ZDF Enterprises Jonathan M Shiff Productions
2 Nowhere Boys series 1 13 ABC 2012/13 NBC Universal International Television Distribution Matchbox Pictures
3 H20 Just Add Water series 3 26 Ten 2008/9 ZDF Enterprises Jonathan M Shiff Productions
4 Little Lunch series 1 13 ABC 2013/14 Australian Children’s Television Foundation Gristmill
5 Dance Academy series 1 26 ABC 2008/9 ZDF Enterprises Werner Film Productions

# 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 a “half-hour” is between 24 and 30 minutes.

^ Since opening for business on 1 July 2008 through to the end of 2017, Screen Australia has invested in 35 children’s dramas that have attracted sales – excluding dramas that received grants. All 35 dramas were considered for this list.

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

The five dramas as a group have so far notched up a total of 79 sales worth nearly $14.4 million, which equated to $7.6 million in net returns to investors.

Here’s more information about 2017’s top five children’s dramas:

  • The budgets ranged from $385,000 to $512,000 per half hour.
  • The commissions on sales by the distributors ranged from 25% to 30%; expenses were capped at 5% of gross receipts received by the distributor for four of the dramas. One had no cap.
  • Screen Australia’s investment ranged from $99,000 to $153,000 per half hour. Total investment in each drama ranged from $1.64 million to $2.9 million. (The agency no longer invests more than $2 million in individual productions.)

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