Mixed blessings, challenges for Aussie producers

25 February, 2014 by Don Groves

Australian TV dramas are achieving consistently high ratings and Secrets & Lies, Rake and Wentworth are being remade for international audiences.

Yet production levels of feature films, TV dramas and documentaries are either static or falling, and TV producers are being squeezed on domestic license fees and relicensing deals.

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That contrasting picture of the screen production industry was outlined today by Screen Producers Australia executive director Matthew Deaner.

Addressing the Broadcasting Digital Media Summit, Deaner said the free-to-air commercial broadcasters spent $1.4 billion on Australian programs in 2011/2012, up 24% on the 5-year average, and the ABC and SBS allocated more than $200 million in local programming.

However Deaner observed, “Just 10% of all program expenditure by the commercial free-to-air broadcasters is spent on locally produced drama, children’s and documentary content.

“This is a comparatively modest cost by any measure amid reduced licence fees, greater quota flexibility and an environment where an erosion of the local content standard under the Australian-United State Free Trade Agreement will result in a ratcheted reduction in our policy setting.”

Deaner estimated only about 100 production businesses are active in any one year, of which 49% are sole traders and partnerships, typified by Smith&Nasht, Media Stockade, Galaxy Pop and Virgo.

The larger businesses including Endemol, FremantleMedia Australia, Screentime, Shine Australia, Beyond International and Matchbox Pictures account for 9% of those businesses.

Medium-size businesses including Playmaker Media, Princess Pictures, Porchlight Production, Essential Media and Entertainment, December Media, See-Saw Films and Electric Pictures comprise10%.

Smaller businesses such as High Wire Films, Every Cloud Productions, Jungleboys, Prospero, Jonathan M Shiff Productions, Werner Film Productions, Sticky Pictures and Artemis International represent 32%.

“The top two tiers are characterised by a high volume of production, diversification in the types of projects they develop and often have strong international structures,” he said. “In contrast, the bottom two tiers are more likely to be working within a single genre or on a project-to-project basis. They may work with large budgets but their volume fluctuates with development and production cycles.”

Deaner used his speech to restate SPA’s opposition to the Fair Use copyright exemptions proposed by the Australian Law Reform Commission. He predicted that would result in myriad cases of litigation which would increase the burden on copyright owners, drive up costs and potentially erode revenues

He said imported content dominates the schedules of the multi-channels because Australian producers are unable to re-licence their back catalogue due to outmoded contractual terms.

“The inability to fully exploit back catalogue assets denies production companies, writers and performers a revenue stream. In the case of producers, this revenue could be utilised to employ staff and reinvest in the development of future projects,” he said.

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