Foxtel reaffirms its commitment to Australian drama

Patrick Delany.

Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany has reassured Australian producers that its commitment to commissioning Australian drama has not wavered.

Some producers expressed concern after it was announced that Penny Win would step down after nearly five years as Foxtel’s head of drama and transition to a consultant role.

Earlier this year Foxtel did call a temporary halt to drama commissions while it reviewed its approach to the genre, raising fears it may reduce its investment in drama after funneling many millions of dollars into sports rights and SVOD service Kayo Sports.

However Delany told IF today: “We are not shirking or moving away from our commitment to Australian drama. We will continue to commission four series each year.”

More broadly, 75 new and returning dramas are premiering on Foxtel this year. The platform has screened Matchbox’s Secret City: Under the Eagle and Fremantle’s Wentworth and Lingo Pictures’ Lambs of God, directed by Jeffrey Walker and scripted by Sarah Lambert, are on air.

That will be followed by Lingo Pictures’ eight-part Upright, which stars Tim Minchin and Milly Alcock.

See-Saw Films’ The End, a 10-parter starring Frances O’Connor and Harriet Walter, scripted by Samantha Strauss and co-commissioned with Sky UK, will premiere next year.

In March Foxtel and News Corp Australia announced they had commissioned Lawyer X: The story of Informer 3838, the saga of the Melbourne-based criminal barrister who was a Victorian police informant from 1995 until 2009 during Melbourne’s gangland wars. Delany said that is a complicated project and various issues are being worked through.

Production of the final 20 episodes of Wentworth is due to start in October. Foxtel executive director of TV Brian Walsh and head of content Ross Crowley are taking pitch meetings for another returning series after A Place to Call Home wrapped.

Yesterday Foxtel unveiled a new user experience for subscribers while making Netflix available for the first time to those who have iQ4 set top boxes and, by November, the iQ3.

Foxtel will be hoping that by adding Netflix it will reduce the churn (cancellation) rate, which rose to 17.7 per cent in the first quarter, up from 15.3 per cent a year earlier.

Delany estimates 40 per cent-50 per cent of Foxtel customers also subscribe to Netflix and he believes many will like the convenience of the new remotes which have Foxtel home and Netflix buttons.

Foxtel is now offering a new sports, drama and entertainment package bundled with Netflix free for six months for $58 a month and drama, entertainment and Netflix for $49 a month.

The company is reviewing its pricing and packaging and preparing to introduce a loyalty program. The latter may reward long—time customers with incentives such as a free upgrade to the iQ4 or HD at no extra cost.

The dual aims are to retain customers for Foxtel, which had 2.4 million broadcast and commercial subs in the first quarter, down 100,000 on the previous quarter, and to continue to lift the uptake of Foxtel Now and Kayo Sports. News Corp reported in May that Foxtel Now had 505,000 subs and Kayo Sports had 239,000. Kayo Sports is attracting new subscribers, not taking viewers away from Fox Sports.

“We aim to reduce churn and sign enough new customers to maintain the Foxtel customer base while growing our streaming services,” he said.

SBS On Demand will be integrated into the platform before the end of the year and Delany flagged further additions, possibly including YouTube.

Some 1.1 million homes have the iQ3 or the iQ4, a critical mass which Delany sees as an attractive option for any of the international players which plan to launch their streaming services in Australia.