Screen Australia has foreshadowed a more stringent approach to investing in children’s drama in light of the paltry viewing figures for programs aired on the commercial free-to-air networks’ digital channels.

Head of production Sally Caplan cited Mako Mermaids, which attracted 200,000 viewers when the  first 15 episodes aired at 4 pm on Fridays on Network Ten’s primary channel in 2013.

Following the change in legislation allowing children’s programs broadcast on the multi-channels, Ten moved the show to 8 am Fridays on Eleven,  drawing just 21,000, which improved  to 41,000 after it was shifted to Sundays at 11 am.

The agency invested $2.9 million in the series, Caplan told a Screen Australia forum in Sydney on Tuesday evening. Jonathan M. Shiff Productions produced a second series and Netflix acquired the rights to both seasons for multiple territories.  

Caplan said “we have to rethink” that level of investment which is not justified given the ratings on the multi-channels.  “These are desperate times for children’s drama,” she added, while noting no local kids’ dramas aired on the primary channels in 2014.

As IF reported, the parlous state of the sector prompted Australia’s most successful children's producer Noel Price to depart Endemol Australia/Southern Star in May after 17 years.  He is now figuring out ways of financing and monetizing online content.

Caplan announced there will be five funding rounds each year for children’s drama, up from two, to ensure more projects can be considered.

Recognising that networks may want to partner with each other or with streaming services to fulfil the local content quota, she said the minimum licence fee of $100,000 per hour would rise to $115,000 if two or more platforms were co-financing.

Caplan also revealed that Cleverman, an innovative six-part futuristic action drama commissioned by ABC-TV's Indigenous department, co-produced by Goalpost Pictures and New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures, is budgeted at $12 million.

Turning to adult drama, she said the minimum licence fee of $440,000 per hour had not changed for five years. She reiterated that fee applies to just one broadcaster, and that if Nine, for example, chose to partner with sibling Stan, an additional fee is required.

Screen Australia chief operating officer Fiona Cameron told the forum she expects the issue of local content quotas to be examined during the first term of the next federal government.

She suggested a new regime which might entail mandating a minimum spend on local content for Netflix and other SVOD platforms.

Cameron said the former Film Australia site at Lindfield will be auctioned in the next couple of weeks and Screen Australia would seek to persuade the government to let it retain some of the proceeds. Marked for redevelopment, the land is expected to sell for more than $30 million.

She said the multiplatform enterprises scheme is designed to build online and interactive businesses while the Indigenous enterprises initiative aims to develop the next wave of Indigenous producers and talent.


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