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Part 3: a glance at who’s buying

Acorn Media, AMC/Sundance, BBC Television, Netflix and Universal Kids were key buyers of Australian drama in 2017.

Identifying key international buyers of Australian drama depends on how the data is cut. Some buyers and territories are important because of how often they buy content; others because they pay premium rates.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t too difficult to put together this list of the four (in alphabetical order) companies that were most interested in drama made for grownups, supported by Screen Australia, and using the criteria of sales signed off in 2017:

  • Acorn Media bought the most: six series for North America, including all three of East West 101.
  • AMC/Sundance made three purchases but all were for regions or bundles of territories, rather than single countries.
  • BBC Television was particularly active because of The Kettering Incident, which it bought for a number of territories, but it also bought two other series for the UK, being Picnic at Hanging Rock and Romper Stomper. (Both dramas made the bulk of their sales in 2018.)
  • Netflix spent up big buying worldwide rights to two series of Wanted.

In all there were 54 active buyers. Two of the 54 buyers – AMC/Sundance and Netflix – also bought children’s drama supported by Screen Australia. It would be churlish not to mention that Hulu is a regular buyer of drama for both audiences, although it was not as active in 2017 as in the past.

There were a further 14 buyers of children’s drama in 2017 with the standout being Universal Kids. This was judged on both the number and the value of sales. Universal Kids buys for the US and two of its three purchases were of Nowhere Boys.

The most sales across both kinds of drama – 12 of the 108 in all – were to the US. Add a further eight sales to North America (which includes principally Canada as well) and the value of that part of the world to Australian drama producers is clear.

There were nine sales to the UK and many others to other parts of Europe too – producers and sales agents are carefully watching how the divorce between the UK and the European Union, due to happen in March 2019, will impact television sales.

Identifying important territories in anything more than broad terms is challenging because prices fluctuate wildly and one sale might be to a recognised region or to multiple unrelated territories or to a single country.

Plus not all producers are good at keeping Screen Australia up to date with sales information. (The agency would like to get as much data as possible about prices, rights, the changing landscape and so on because it has an advisory as well as a funding role.)

Significantly more net returns flow to investors from abroad than from local sales activity: those free-to-air broadcasters, subscription television operators and subscription video on demand platforms that screen the dramas first in Australia pay (or promise to pay) more than other local buyers but the in-advance payments are used to make the show. In other words, this money is excluded from sales figures.

The world is a big place and there are many sales opportunities abroad. Australian programs – all of them a window into Australian life – are reaching all corners of the world from Bhutan to Russia, China to the Maldives.