How might Aussie producers best take advantage of the global streaming boom?

Stan Original ‘Bloom’. 

Marcus Gillezeau, an International Digital Emmy and AACTA Award-winning independent producer, writer and EP, suggests Australia needs a ‘whole-of-country’ approach to reap the benefits of the streaming age. 

The launch of Disney + and Apple TV+ this month have landed bang in the middle of the annual Screen Producers Australia (SPA) conference, Screen Forever. Independent producers attending will undoubtedly be keen to know if Disney and Apple, along with the other major studio streamers, are likely to increase production expenditure in Australia.

The back-to-back announcements of AppleTV+’s Shantaram , Netflix’s Clickbait, Amazon’s comedy series LOL: Last One Laughing and 10-part stand-up special certainly point to significant opportunity. However, some are asking whether these productions are a genuine sign of things to come or just a handful of ad-hoc one-offs.

The existing streaming landscape in Australia provides a staggering array of choice, both free and paid. Netflix, Stan, Amazon and a slew of smaller players including Youtube Premium, Fetch, Kayo and Madman-owned Docplay, AnimeLab and Garage sit alongside hundreds of niche streamers. Collectively, Roy Morgan estimate these paid subscription services reach 14 million Australians. On top of that, the free-to-air networks have their own on-demand offerings.

New entrants launching globally and in Australia in the next 12 months include Warner Media’s HBO Max, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and the aforementioned AppleTV+ and Disney+. There has never been a better time for lovers of film and TV, and never been a more complex, challenging and potentially fantastic time for makers of film and TV content.

It’s expected that together studio and niche streamers will spend a staggering $25 billion globally on original content in 2020. It would seem at first glance that for independent producers, writers, directors, key creatives and crew this should open up an abundance of opportunities. But will it? The answer is yes, as long as ‘we’ are strategic.

Who is ‘we’? We is the collective Australian screen production sector.

Marcus Gillezeau.

There is concern that the explosive consumer growth of streamers in the Australian market has not being matched by the same growth in expenditure in the independent production sector on original content. However, a quick glance at the list of productions that are either co-productions or exclusive commissions (see below) in the last three years point to strong growth in expenditure by incumbent streamers.

The new entrants will have a steep hill to climb to catch up with Netflix, Amazon and Stan who between them reportedly have over 7 million paying subscribers in Australia. The war to win subscribers in mature markets like Australia will be fierce. Convincing people to either add an additional service and therefore an additional monthly cost, or switch over to a new service will be tough. How will the streamers retain or win these viewers over?

The new entrants and incumbents will need to commission original content specific to the tastes of Australian audiences. This is an opportunity for independent Australian production companies. But there are significant challenges for Australian independent producers in securing those commissions, the least of which being the majority of streamers do not have commissioning executives in their Australian offices.

The question then is how do we accelerate and increase growth in original commissions? Perhaps we should be approaching streamers as ‘Team Australia’. We have some of the best producers, directors, writers and crews in the world. We have an incredible list of globally recognised acting talent. Our production companies are mature, capable and highly experienced at working with international partners.

We have a consistently advantageous exchange rate, generous and flexible tax rebates that can be easily leveraged, and an ultra-stable economy. If ‘Team Australia’ could convince the streaming giants to spend just a fraction of the billions available for new content here (let’s say 5 per cent of their total global budgets) we’d increase production expenditure by hundreds of millions.

How might this be done? Perhaps Austrade could work with SPA, the state funding agencies, Ausfilm, Screen Australia and other representative bodies and do some serious trade delegation work? We can’t wait for the streamers to set up offices to commission Australian production. We need to get on with getting to the decision makers in person.

Another strategy is to get the streamers out to Australia to meet our best talent and production companies. SPA is actively working on this through invitations to attend Screen Forever. Perhaps this strategy could be expanded with a collaborative approach by the funding agencies, Austrade and Ausfilm to help build the individual and collective relationships and trust required for large-scale production.

In April, SPA established the Screen Export Advisory Council, led by former Arts and Trade Minister Simon Crean and former NSW Minister for Tourism Bruce Baird. Among its members are See-Saw Films’ Emile Sherman, actor Bryan Brown and Flying Bark CEO Barbara Stephen. Its aim is to help “advance the export potential of Australia’s local screen industry in taking Australian stories to the world.” The establishment of this council could certainly go some way to helping secure original production opportunities.

Securing large-scale, high quality drama and factual production will require some serious investment in the development of content truly international in its scale. There is no need to steer away from Australian settings, stories and cast. Just look at recent drama projects The Gloaming, Kettering Incident, Mystery Road and The Cry. To land big commissions, you need to spend big on development.

Co-production provides another avenue for increasing spending in Australia. We have formal co-production treaties with 10 countries and MOUs and informal co-production history with a dozen more, including the growth markets of China, Singapore and Malaysia. We should be able to convince the streamers that Australia provides a trusted co-production partner. But again, this requires a well-resourced, co-ordinated and outward looking strategic plan on the part of the screen sector and its representative bodies.

What does the future for independent producers, production companies and key creatives look like in Australia? If we approach it in an ad-hoc, every-person-for-themselves kind of way, it could potentially be very disappointing for a lot of highly capable and talented screen practitioners that government agencies have invested a lot of time and money developing. However, it could be a golden age if we look at the future through a lens that is focused on approaching the opportunities intelligently, strategically and as a single brand of ‘Team Australia’.

Australian SVOD co-pros and commissions:

  • Bloom (Stan)
  • The Commons (Stan)
  • The Gloaming (Stan)
  • The Other Guy (Stan, two seasons)
  • The Second (Stan, feature film)
  • No Activity (Stan, two season and Xmas special)
  • Romper Stomper (Stan)
  • Wolf Creek (Stan, two seasons)
  • Shantaram (AppleTV+)
  • LOL: Last One Laughing (Amazon)
  • Untitled 10-part stand-up special (Amazon)
  • Clickbait (Netflix)
  • The King (Netflix, feature film)
  • Nanette (Netflix)
  • Tidelands (Netflix)
  • Lunatics (Netflix)
  • I Am Mother (Netflix, feature film – acquisition)
  • The Letdown (Netflix with ABC)
  • Pine Gap (Netflix with ABC)
  • Cargo (Netflix, feature film – acquisition)
  • The New Legends of Monkey (Netflix with ABC)
  • Glitch (Netflix with ABC)
  • Bottersnikes & Gumbles (Netflix with Seven/BBC)
  • Kazoops (Netflix with ABC/BBC)
  • Mako Mermaids: An H20 Adventure (Netflix with Ten)
  • The White Rabbit Project (Netflix)
  • The Unlisted (Netflix with ABC)
  • Zumbo’s Just Desserts (Netflix with Seven)
  • Beatbugs (Netflix with Seven)
  • The InBESTigators (Netflix with ABC)

Marcus Gillezeau will speak on panel ‘The Global Streaming Boom’ at Screen Forever November 13, alongside Film Victoria CEO Caroline Pitcher, RMIT’s Ramon Lobato, Netflix’s regional lead, production policy for APAC Debra Richards and Madman Entertainment co-MD Paul Wiegard. 

An original version of this story appeared in IF Magazine #191 October-November.