Producers facing ‘complex challenges’ with commissioners: SPA survey

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A lack of fairness, administrative complexities, and communication issues are the chief concerns for independent production companies doing business with commissioning platforms, according to new research from Screen Producers Australia (SPA).

The organisation conducted a survey via its membership base between September and October this year, with the aim of understanding the challenges production businesses face in striking deals and working with commissioners across public broadcasting, commercial free-to-air, subscription TV and streaming services.

All respondents were asked questions designed to gauge impression of each platform, while those that had engaged in any formal commissioning processes in the past three years invited to complete further experience-based questions.

Data from the 301 responses revealed seven out of ten platforms failed to be recognised as negotiating ‘fair’ deal terms with producers, while one in four respondents had been encouraged to commence production without an official greenlight.

In 43 per cent of reported commissions, producers experienced challenges in ensuring the appropriate budget was offered to meet the quality and volume expectations of commissioner, and 23 per cent faced difficulties with the way drawdowns and cashflows were structured.

Further to this, two international platforms were recognised as contributing to liquidity issues in the way drawdowns were structured and half of all platforms were reported to have pressured producers into unfavourable variations to existing contracts.

Of the primary concerns for each type of platform, half of the respondents listed public broadcasters providing sufficient budgets to match expectations of quality
and volume, while 73 per cent identified that FTA broadcasters’ budgets were not sufficient to match expectations.

Almost half of survey respondents also reported concerns with the appropriateness of
budgets offered by subscription television commissioners (41 per cent).

In contrast, streaming services rated well in offering appropriate budgets for commissions, with 89 per cent answering positively. However, there were concerns reported with specific streaming platforms that structure drawdowns in such a way that it causes liquidity issues for producers, something that featured in 56 per cent of responses.

In its report, SPA said whilst the results suggest producers often feel pressured to accept unfavourable terms, further results suggest a lack of confidence that good work or goodwill from producers will in fact lead to future opportunities with the commissioning platform. According to the organisation, these challenges work to inhibit productivity, sustainability, and creativity in the sector, most acutely at the small
business level.

ÔÇťOverall, the results of the survey suggest current industry conditions are in many cases unfavourable to SME producer businesses in ways which create uncertainty and harm, and which stifle productivity, growth, and investment, ” SPA CEO Matthew Deaner said.

“Operating a small business comes with its own challenges, however, these survey results show the further challenges which arise when the major buyers in the market (who in this case, are unavoidable trading partners) are large in size and limited in number.”

Find a full snapshot of the results here.