Amazon, Netflix and Stan look to build momentum after COVID challenges

Netflix director of local originals for Australia Que Minh Luu, Amazon Prime Video head of content for Australia, New Zealand, and Canada Tyler Bern, and Stan chief content officer Cailah Scobie.

Last year, the major streaming services further entrenched themselves into the Australian market.

Amazon launched a slate of seven local originals, Netflix ANZ further expanded its team with the appointments of Susie Jones and Chris Oliver-Taylor, and Nine-owned service Stan announced several new commissions as part of its plan to invest in more than 30 productions per year within five years.

The local presence of streaming services also became an industry-wide conversation as the Federal Government invited submissions for its media reform green paper, which suggests SVODs and AVODs invest a percentage of their revenue on Australian content in the form of commissions, co-productions, and acquisitions.

With the content landscape continuing to broaden, IF spoke with Amazon Prime Video head of content for Australia and New Zealand, Tyler Bern; Netflix director of originals in Australia Que Minh Luu, and Stan’s chief content officer Cailah Scobie about the direction of their respective slates for 2022.

How would you describe the state of Australian television production heading into 2022?

Tyler Bern: The Australian production industry is thriving and it’s a really exciting time to be an Aussie content maker. Amazon Prime Video will be filming three Australian scripted TV originals in 2022 – Class of ’07, produced by Matchbox; Deadloch, produced by Guesswork; and The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, produced by Made up Stories. We are also announcing additional scripted Australian projects soon. 

Que Minh Luu: It was really a tough year [in 2021] with the pandemic, with all the uncertainty impacting livelihoods, sudden pivots meaning not enough people to crew on shows, and then suddenly lots of people to crew on shows with lots of schedules changing. But everyone, us included, has adjusted as best they can. We still got our productions going and it feels like going into 2022, the industry has robust COVID plans in place, we’re emerging from a crappy year, and we’ll continue to get better.

Cailah Scobie: Beyond the COVID challenges, let’s just say that the level of production kicking off in 2022 is huge – there are more options for Australian producers and creatives to get their show commissioned and the international appetite for Australian content is stronger than ever. 

Caitlin Stasey, Emily Browning, and Megan Smart behind-the-scenes of ‘Class of ’07’. (Photo: Daniel Asher Smith)

Are there any emerging production trends from 2021 that you see becoming more pronounced next year?

TB: I expect distributors to continue experimenting with how they launch TV shows. As customer viewing habits are constantly changing we are seeing all sorts of launch cadences – binge, episodic, etc. – to figure out what works best for particular types of content. There’s no one-size-fits all model so it’s going to be really interesting to see how content programming evolves in 2022.

QML: For us, it’s going to be a focus on generational change. So things like the attachment programs we’re piloting on Heartbreak High are things we want to roll out and scale. On every single project we have, there is a really clear mix of establishment and kind of newer voice, and we want to lean on maintaining that mix and fostering this culture of wisdom, mentoring, young grasshoppers and new voices, but also listening into new ideas that come from those new voices and be inspired by them. In short, being even and considered about making that generational exchange into something more foundational.

CS: It has been terrific to see so many people stepping up into lead and head of department positions given the current shortage of these. It has been a shot in the arm for so many of the brilliant emerging screen practitioners across all states. It is also worth recognising the tenacity of the Australian production sector to be delivering so much excellent work despite all of these challenges. 

The cast of ‘Heartbreak High’.

What do you believe will characterise television production in the next 12 months?

TB: It’s an amazing time to be a consumer of TV and movies. There is so much great content coming out in 2022. So what we are focused on is how we can evolve and differentiate our creative approach to keep our shows front of mind and zeitgeisty. We’ve hired our first local creative executive, Sarah Christie, who previously worked at Goalpost Pictures, to lead our scripted efforts in Australia and keep us at the forefront of creating must-watch programs. 

QML: I think less about the production elements and more about what kind of conversations we’re having. So, when we look at the stories we’re doing at Netflix in ANZ, there is a shift from dark and almost cynical storytelling, towards stuff with inbuilt hope or a sense of community. I think it is a conversation trend we’ll see more in 2022, and how we approach our content is going to shift more towards values and optimism.

CS: Driven by various lockdowns and ‘go-slows’, greater and deeper development has emerged as a necessity, which has been a benefit of the current COVID situation. I expect we will see more co-productions as the dominant financing model for higher budget productions, as well as a sustained appetite for highly authored pieces at the lower end of the budget spectrum. In terms of Stan Originals, we are building the slate across all genres and look forward to announcing some exciting new projects in the coming months. 

Are there any lessons the industry can learn from 2021?

TB: We are an incredibly resilient industry that produced some tremendous projects during 2021 with few COVID-related issues. We just need to remember not to let our guard down and be diligent with safety to keep producing at a high-level in 2022. 

QML: Everyone has had a really rough time in 2021; we’re all emerging from our own version of it being tough. But the takeaway for me is that Australia is a really great place to shoot in. We know how to pivot and in pivoting, we know how to make our systems work better and our processes work better. And so, it feels like there are a lot of lessons we can learn about how we can improve on our traditional ways of doing things. And again, the importance of generational change. I’m seeing on Heartbreak High how the established practitioners are really looking out for everyone else, and leaning into that kindness and desire to share knowledge, and finding inspiration and energy from fresh ideas and perspectives. 

CS: At Stan, we have doubled our Originals slate of Australian commissioned content from the previous financial year, and it is testament to the strength of Australian IP and screen creatives, that this work is finding its way on to Stan screens as well as being picked up by the international market. Audiences all over the world – but particularly in Australia – want to see stories in all their diversity reflected on screen.

Josh Gad and Isla Fisher in ‘Wolf Like Me’.

What would be your advice to producers aiming to pitch their work in 2022?

TB: We are always on the lookout for new creative talent and fresh ideas across scripted and unscripted formats. Right now, we are focusing our attention on YA and features. My advice for anyone with a great idea is to nail who your intended audience would be and prove to us why that audience would care about your project. From my experience, the pitches that you can clearly understand who would watch this have really stood out. I also need to see that you are extremely passionate about your idea.

QML: The creative voice and point of view need to be clear. What is your take on this idea/subject/theme/genre/format? If you can’t articulate it clearly with genuine passion, then it’s not ready to be pitched. Specifically, I’d say prioritise the hook, and help us understand what the show or film is right upfront. And then once you’ve got us in, then you can start challenging us with the complexity of the idea. Get as many people through the gate before you start closing off the exit. And please don’t DM pitches, Instagram is strictly for lols.

CS: Stan Originals will be expanding further in 2022, and we would love to hear from you – please be patient with your pitches and we will get back to you as soon as we can!