In Graeme Mason’s last few days as Screen Australia’s chief executive, he’s been explaining how the funding body gave grants, loans and investments of $82.27m to fund screen projects in the financial year 2022/23. Not a big chunk of the $2b+ invested overall in drama, but an amount that helps trigger many of the projects.
Mason did a round of media interviews, including TV and radio on Wednesday and Thursday this week, his penultimate week as chief executive.
While the total production dollar amount invested is down slightly year-on-year ($2.432b 2021/22 v $2.344b 2022/23), the number of titles produced is up (171 to 213).
In explaining the split between international productions versus domestic commissions, Mason said: “There were 96 foreign projects. What is interesting is that 16 of those were filmed in Australia, and 80 of them were what we call PDV – post digital visual effects. That means we had 117 local productions.”
One of the drags on production spend was less spent on production for cinema releases. “That is largely because we are comparing it to the previous year when there were more big budget films. There were three major international productions based in Sydney during this latest year – The Fall Guy, Godzilla vs Kong and The Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.”
Australian titles made up $1.13 billion of total spend. Although expenditure by Australian subscription TV and Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) has decreased this year, growth in Free-to-Air (FTA) TV and Broadcaster Video-On-Demand (BVOD) has helped to offset those declines to deliver the second-highest Australian expenditure on record.
Mason has always cautioned about reading too much into a trend based on YOY comparisons. “For example, whoever is talking about this report next year will have figures impacted by the US production strike. At present there are no movies coming into Australia to film at the moment and it’s been like that for five months.”
Drama finds a home on STV and SVOD
One trend that Mason said is real is the move of adult dramas away from FTA linear TV to streaming services.
“Where it gets interesting is where there is overlap from parent companies. That would be Stan and Nine, Paramount+ and Network 10. You see some bleeding from one to the other.
“It’s also interesting to look at Neighbours now which was picked up and recommissioned by Amazon, yet premieres on 10. On that basis, should 10 get a credit in terms of hours and spend for Neighbours, or should it have been Amazon?
“Similarly, if Stan has something for a couple of weeks to drive subscribers and then it later goes on Nine. Do we care, and how should it be reported?
“With the exception of the public broadcasters, a lot of FTA drama spend is on soaps like Home and Away and Neighbours.”
Mason said the biggest spender on drama are the SVOD services, a bigger spend than the dollars invested in cinema releases in 2022/23. Yet they were down in hours produced by about 15%, and down in the number of titles by about 20%. They were also down in spend by about 11%.
“In an expanding market of more platforms with more subscribers, and more revenue, they are the biggest single player. But even they shrunk. We need to watch that to see if it is a trend.”
Spending patterns: Drama in 2022/23
Theatrical features $363m
FTA TV and BVOD $277m
STV and SVOD $398m
Cost of TV drama hours
Drill deep into the report and you can calculate the cost of TV drama for networks and streaming platforms.
“The numbers are skewed by soaps which are cheaper than shorter run drama,” said Mason. “The difference between making The Lost Flowers of Alive Hart [Prime] and Home and Away [Seven] is off the chart.”
Serials cost roughly $500,000 per hour to produce, a jump from $300,000. Shorter run drama costs on average $2.1m.
“Drama costs more to produce, premium drama in particular is costing dramatically more [excuse the pun].”
Where production money is spent
New South Wales set a record for the third year running, with over $1.3b in expenditure in 2022/23, accounting for 56% of the national total. Queensland also set a record, with total expenditure of $581m, 23% above last year. Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia all saw declines with spend falling 45%, 52% and 9% respectively. Combined spend in the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Tasmania declined to $4m in 2022/23.
Stan remains king of Australian Originals
Foxtel and SVOD platforms: Stan held the largest single share of total drama titles (38%) and total hours (33%) in this category, consistent with last year’s trend.
Children’s TV drama
Australian children’s TV and VOD expenditure reached $81m compared to $67m in 2021/22. The ABC continues to commission the majority of titles, accounting for nine out of the 12 titles that entered production, with support from Screen Australia, which contributed finance to 10 titles. The Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) supported four titles.
In the last five years, the ABC’s share of all children’s TV and VOD titles has increased from 45% to 75%.
Graeme Mason not only Screen Australia departure
It is all change at the top of the screen sector development and funding body. Along with the departure of Mason, the chair of Screen Australia for the past nine years Nicholas Moore is leaving early in 2024. Since stepping back from his role as Macquarie Group CEO, Moore has been involved in many projects. Others included developing an economic strategy for Australian investment in South-East Asia to chairing The Smith Family.
Who’s on the board of Screen Australia
Sitting alongside Mason and Moore have been deputy chair Megan Brownlow, and board members Marta Dusseldorp, Sacha Horler, Helen Leake, Deborah Mailman and Nicholas Pickard. Board members whose terms expired during 2022/23 were Claudia Karvan, Richard King and Joanna Werner.
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