Free TV calls for Australian content reform as report shows over $1bn in spending on drama production

Expenditure on drama production in Australia has exceeded $1.17bn, according to a new report from Screen Australia, with foreign investment rising to $410m.

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said the fact that commercial free-to-air broadcasters make up $114m of that investment, more than any other sector in 2018/19, shows how important it is that Australia’s current content regulatory framework be revised.

Expenditure in Australian drama has surged past $1bn

According to the report, commercial free-to-air broadcasters spent more than six times the amount on Australian drama production than online streaming services. The expenditure this year was the highest in the report’s 29 years, but also shows that the cost of producing Australian drama has more than doubled per hour over 10 years.

“The real take-out from today’s report is that we need to address the sustainability of the current Australian content regulatory framework. While our competitors are free to respond to changes in audience demand, we are still operating under an onerous and very restrictive regulatory framework that was created in the 1990s and doesn’t acknowledge that viewers have moved on,” said Fair.

“Free TV broadcasters proudly invest over 80% of their programming expenditure on local content and that includes Australian drama programming. In 2018, commercial free-to-air networks once again broadcast more than 430 hours of first-release Australian drama.

“The production industry in Australia is thriving and there is no shortage of high-quality Australian content available for local audiences. Free TV broadcasters need additional flexibility to adapt to modern viewing habits and we urge the government to modernise the framework to enable broadcasters to continue delivering the content that audiences want to watch,” Fair said.

Fair is referring to the regulations which require Australian free-ti-air networks broadcast 55% Australian programming between 6am and midnight. There are also specific minimum annual sub-quotas for first-run Australian adult drama, documentary and children’s programs. Online streaming platforms such as Netflix and Stan are not bound by this regulation, something which the industry has often raised as a concern for the future of Australian production.

The ABC contributed $52m in drama, comedy, online and children’s content across 28 titles, including Total Control, Utopia and the online sensation Content.

Seven of the 15 Australian children’s television drama titles that went into production in 2018-19 were financed by the ABC, including international success story Bluey.

Michael Carrington, ABC director of entertainment and specialist, said: “Great Australian drama helps define who we are as a nation, echoing and exploring our priorities, perspectives and place in the world. Audiences here and overseas want to see Australian stories and voices on screen and the ABC is proud to lead the way as the nation’s biggest backer of homegrown content and creativity.”

The Drama Report is aimed at measuring the health of Australia’s screen industry, through its detailing of local and foreign feature films, television and online programs, as well as post, digital and visual effects (PDV). ‘Drama’ refers to scripted narratives of any genre in the report.

The 2018/19 spend was $334m, up 13% on last year and above the five-year average. Australian feature film spending rose 15% to $299m, and $95m of children’s television programming went into production – the highest spend in this category since 2008/9.

The largest spend was in New South Wales (31%), followed by Victoria (30%) and Queensland (24%).

Minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, Paul Fletcher, said: “Australia has a successful film and television industry that is undertaking significant business in the production of both local and foreign drama content.

“These excellent results are no accident, and are a reflection on the talent of our local film and television industry, the appeal of Australian filming locations, the Australian Government incentives available, state government support and direct funding from Screen Australia. The value of the Drama Report is that it now builds on 29 years of data, giving the Government and industry excellent insight into the health and trends of screen production in Australia.”

The year saw SBS commission its most successful drama of all timeThe Hunting – and Disney acquire Bluey season one and two for international release.

Michael Brealey, chief operating officer of Screen Australia said, “To have 65% of total expenditure driven by our home grown stories is remarkable and illustrates the immense demand for Australian content.”

“It’s fantastic to see titles showcasing the diversity of landscapes and depth of talent from around the country. In the past 12 months H is for Happiness filmed in Western Australia’s Great Southern region, The Gloaming in Tasmania, Robbie Hood in Alice Springs, The Dry in regional Victoria, Stateless in Adelaide, Total Control in Canberra and Winton in Queensland, not to mention a second series of fan favourite Bluey being created in Brisbane.”


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