Statistics: Safety in numbers

Screen Australia’s research manager, Rosemary Curtis, provides some insights into the latest data on the screen production industries from the ABS, as the future of the survey is under review.

In his article ‘playing the numbers game’ (encore, august 2008), Geoff Brown, the Executive Director of the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA), commented on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report on television, film and video production and post-production services for 2006/07. He questioned the validity of some figures and suggested that Screen Australia take up the challenge of pursuing clear and precise data.

Discussion of the ABS data is timely, as the bureau has been reviewing its Industry Statistics Program, including whether or not to continue this survey. Let’s start with the figures cited in the article, which began by stating: “The ABS report claims the income from all production in the film and video production industry, including broadcasters’ own productions and the postproduction sector, in the financial year 2006/07 was $2,028 billion.”

SPAA proposed “a more realistic figure for our sector to be around $410 million for the year”, based on their own analysis and monitoring of “production activity” for the same period for “independent documentary, television drama, variety, children’s, feature film, animation and television commercials”. No further details were provided, such as whether monitoring covered only SPAA members, which comprise 246 active businesses (according to Brown’s article).

The figure reported by the ABS is $2,028.1 million (a little over $2 billion). It does not include income from broadcasters’ own productions. It does represent income generated by 2,492 film and video production and post-production businesses. At a glance, a comparison with New Zealand industry statistics for the same period suggests the ABS figures are in range, with Statistics New Zealand reporting production and postproduction revenue of $1,046 million and 1,935 businesses in the sector in 2007. So why the apparently large differences? At a basic level, these reflect how the sector is defined, what is being compared and which numbers are being quoted from the ABS report. Of the $2,028.1 million total reported by the ABS, production income makes up $1,132.4 million, or $1,008.8 million if corporate video, educational media, music video and other genres are omitted, as they have been in SPAA’s own estimates

However, if what we’re really looking at is production activity, as Geoff Brown did in this article, it’s arguably more appropriate to refer to ABS figures on production costs rather than income (as the latter includes licence fees, private and public sector investment, and presales). Production costs published by the ABS, excluding broadcasters’ own productions, total $945.9 million, including $183.8 million on feature films and $195.9 million on commercials, as well as $476.8 million on TV programs ($70 million of which were productions by subscription TV channel providers, further enquiries by Screen Australia have revealed).

If SPAA’s $410 million estimate is based on its members alone, then the difference between it and the ABS figure for non-broadcaster production of around $460 million would represent the production costs of non- SPAA members and genres not covered by SPAA. This appears to be feasible based on known production during the period and industry advice.

The article decried “any suggestion that the industry supports 2,492 businesses”, stating the bulk are “one person operations with only occasional business activity” or perhaps “an old SPV still functioning for the purposes of revenue collections”. Many are indeed small businesses but only those that earned income during 2006/07 are included and their presence adds to the precision of the estimates. As in other cases, it is the breakdown provided by the ABS that is particularly revealing. In 2006/07, non employing businesses were included for the first time if their annual turnover was over $84,000 for production services and $70,000 for post-production. These made up 22% of the total number of businesses and 5.4% of total income. Almost 84% of businesses in film and video production services employ fewer than five people, contributing 35.7% of total income. Those employing 50 people or more accounted for just 1.2% of businesses but 30.6% of income.

In relation to production costs, the ABS reports 252 non-broadcaster businesses (independent production businesses and subscription TV channel providers) making television programs in 2006/07, 78 making feature films and 46 making (non-broadcast) documentaries. Given that there is some overlap between businesses in each category, this is not far off the SPAA membership mentioned earlier (246 active companies). Among the other types of production cited, the ABS reports 454 businesses involved in corporate, marketing and training, and 107 in education media.


The overwhelming benefit of the ABS survey is that it provides the only comprehensive data available on the overall performance of the industry. Their procedures incorporate important quality checkpoints, and the organisation, which has a high degree of impartiality and independence from political influence, also has the advantage of holding the authority of law to compel response – this industry can be a difficult one from which to solicit data.

The survey was developed and tested in consultation with industry including representatives from the AFC, MEAA, ADG, Film Victoria, FFC, NSWFTO, PFTC, SAFC, Animal Logic, Ausfilm, commercial broadcasters, ASTRA, Free TV, ABC, SBS, AFTRS, MoneyPenny, QUT Creative Industries – and SPAA.

Five production industry surveys have been conducted by the ABS since 1993/94, adapting to the changing environment over the years. At this point, another survey has not yet been scheduled. Screen Australia remains a strong supporter of the surveys as a crucial source of key business indicators for the industry as a whole, and for production and postproduction activity in particular. Screen Australia will continue to encourage the ABS to include the film and television production industry in its upcoming schedule.

More information is available at www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/production


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