Beverley McGarvey, Angus Ross and Michael Healy.

For Australia’s commercial free-to-air networks, arguably the biggest threat to losing eyeballs is not each other but the seemingly inexorable rise of streaming services led by Netflix, Stan, Disney+ and Amazon.

However executives at the Seven, Nine and 10 Networks are confident their hefty investment in broad slates of unique Australian programming and their increasingly popular BVoD services will retain viewers.

“The 8.30 pm-9 pm drama audiences are certainly under attack from streaming competition,” Angus Ross, Seven’s director of network programming, tells IF.

“We concentrate investment in news, sport, Home and Away and year-round 7.30 pm stripped programming – all uniquely Australian content that differentiates us from the offerings of the SVoD players. All programming is also available on our 7plus service, so viewers can watch at any time.”

Michael Healy, Nine Entertainment’s director of television, says: “Australian content is at our heart and it will continue to be our unique point of difference.

“Nine is a diversified media company with a vast reach across multiple mediums in TV, broadcast video-on-demand and SVoD via Stan. We have recently invested in our BVoD platform 9Now to create a market leading free broadcast video-on-demand destination.”

Beverley McGarvey, 10’s chief content officer, observes: “As a content business, competition for audiences has always been at the forefront of our thinking and certainly these new competitors are offering some compelling international scripted content, which is not a genre that we have really been reliant on in recent years.

“On our FTA channels we are programming local content across almost all of primetime and offering differentiated genres. We also ensure our content is available on all platforms so that audiences can consume us however they wish. The competition pushes us all to do better and Australian audiences are the beneficiaries of that.”

At a Screen Forever panel last year Fremantle CEO Chris Oliver-Taylor said the commercial networks and Foxtel are putting enormous pressure on budgets by paying licence fees of $440,000 an hour for drama which costs north of $1.5 million.

In his view this forces producers to rely even more heavily on international partners and runs the risk the international partner could exert more creative control than the Oz broadcaster.

Seven Studios’ Between Two Worlds.

The networks and Foxtel insist they often pay higher licence fees. “It is really market pressure driving the cost on content, which has grown massively in recent years,” McGarvey says.

“I think all broadcasters here have demonstrated a willingness to invest substantially in local content, both scripted and non-scripted, but the audiences are more fragmented which creates challenges as well as opportunities.

“Therefore I think we all have to continue to work in collaboration with new and existing partners as best we can to get the best outcomes for Australian audiences and for our businesses.”

Healy says: “We wouldn’t be looking to pay north of $400,000 per hour for dramas to lose creative control – but there’s no hiding from the pressure local drama has come under.

“Over the past seven years there has been an increase of more than 50 per cent in commissioned dramas coming out of the US with over 500 in 2019. Locally what we are now seeing is the value equation shifting with the digital footprint of dramas increasing. The metrics have changed with the audience’s consumption patterns, with value now being derived over a much longer time frame.”

Despite a 30 per cent increase in local content in 2020, Seven’s only new dramas announced thus far are Seven Studios’ Between Two Worlds created by Bevan Lee and Endemol Shine Australia’s RFDS (working title), which follows Royal Flying Doctor Service doctors, nurses, pilots and support staff.

Ross says: “With more than 500 US dramas competing for eyeballs across multiple platforms it is very difficult to cut through in this tidal wave of drama noise that competes for viewers time.

“As a result, the majority of Aussie dramas do not deliver audiences that will move the needle for a network on any platform – which creates the cost pressure and the urgent need for new funding models for this genre.”

Shane Gould in Australian Survivor: All Stars (Photo credit: Nigel Wright).

Nine’s drama line-up includes Screentime’s previously announced Informer 3838 and Beyond/Lone Hand’s Halifax: Retribution and the fourth season of Easy Tiger’s Doctor Doctor, but Healy says there are several dramas in development.

Premiering on 10 will be Lingo Pictures’ six-part thriller The Secrets She Keeps and the second series of Hoodlum Entertainment’s Five Bedrooms and Pete Helliar’s How to Stay Married from Princess Pictures and Pablo Pictures.

“In the current environment commissioning season two of a series is actually often a more challenging decision than season one so we are thrilled to be able to return both of these quality shows,” McGarvey says.

Reality shows will continue to underpin all three networks’ schedules. Seven’s offerings include Seven Studios’ MKR: The Rivals and Pooch Perfect hosted by Rebel Wilson and reboots of ESA’s Big Brother and Fremantle/Eureka Productions’ Farmer Wants a Wife.

Nine is relying on renewals of hit franchises including ESA’s Married at First Sight, LEGO Masters and Australian Ninja Warrior plus ITV Studios Australia’s The Voice and The Block, a Nine production in conjunction with Cavalier Television.

The new season of ITV Studios’ I’m A Celebrity…Get Me out Of Here! is performing well on 10, to be followed by ESA’s Australian Survivor: All Stars and Dancing with the Stars, filmed live in Melbourne, a co-production between WB and BBC Studios.

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