Foxtel flags record investment in local content

Foxtel has announced it will progressively double its investment in Australian scripted, factual, lifestyle and entertainment programming by 2018, boosting funding to record levels.

As part of a plan to triple spending on scripted content, the pay TV giant will ramp up its drama slate to at least five original series each year, up from the current average of two, over the next three years.

Also, more money will be invested in local comedies following Open Slather, a 20-part sketch show produced by Rick McKenna and Laura Waters’ new banner McWaters Productions, which is airing on the Comedy Channel.

The budget for factual programming will also triple as Foxtel moves towards commissioning at least six new documentary series annually.

The home of Australia’s Next Top Model and The Real Housewives of Melbourne, the platform intends to order at least nine new entertainment series each year.

The commitment to boost content spending follows a spike in subscribers to 2.8 million as of March 31 and a lower churn rate, which flows through to the bottom line.

The heightened emphasis on original content is also likely a response to the competitive threat posed by Netflix, which is thought to have upwards of 500,000 subscribers and could reach 1 million by the end of the year. 

Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein announced the increased commitments on Tuesday evening in Canberra, where there was a screening of The Kettering Incident and Screen Producers Australia reps lobbied for a new bi-partisan screen policy.

SPA is seeking an increase in the TV producer offset; an industry code of conduct to strengthen voluntary arrangements with broadcasters; and redefining the term ‘first release’ in the Australian content standard to limit the use of Kiwi programming to fulfill local content quotas. 

The company also revealed the first cast members of Secret City, a six-part political thriller from Matchbox Pictures for showcase, based on the novel The Marmalade Files and the upcoming sequel The Mandarin Code by Canberra insiders Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann.

Anna Torv (Deadline Gallipoli) will play the lead, Harriett Dunkley, a political journalist in Canberra who exposes high-level corruption leading to assassination attempts, suicide and murder. Damon Herriman (Justified, The Water Diviner) is cast as intelligence operative Kim Gordon and Dan Wyllie (Puberty Blues) is Defence Minister Mal Paxton.

The writers are Belinda Chayko, Matt Cameron and Greg Waters, with Joanna Werner producing. The director hasn't been named yet.

SPA CEO Matthew Deaner welcomed the announcement, stating, "This commitment from Foxtel is very good news for Australian screen producers and for Australian audiences. The investment by Foxtel into scripted content and factual programming by 2018, in particular, will provide a significant boost domestic production levels.

"This move shows that Foxtel understands how much their audiences appreciate a diversity of quality, first-run Australian content. Increasing local content makes good business sense for all Australian screen platforms."

Freudenstein said: “We’re passionate about growing the depth and breadth of Australian content on our platforms and we are thrilled to announce that we’re significantly boosting our investment in local commissions.

“Foxtel has been a proud producer of local content across all genres from the best in local drama and comedy to premium documentaries and reality programming.

“In an average week Foxtel broadcasts more first-run content than other subscription services broadcast in a year. This announcement means even more of that original content will be telling Australian stories.”

Foxtel also flagged plans to increase its investment in international programming, particularly dramas, for its main platform and for its on-demand service Anytime.