Slump in TV drama and documentary production: ABS survey

The volume of TV drama and TV documentary production in Australia has slumped in the past four years due to fewer commissions from free-to-air broadcasters, according to a survey released today.

The downturns are quantified in the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ seventh Film, Television and Digital Games Survey covering the 2015-16 financial year.

The survey also showed total income for pay-TV broadcasters and channel providers including SVOD operators reached $5.3 billion, surpassing the commercial FTA broadcasters’ $3.9 billion.

However, the operating profit margin between the two is similar, with 9.2 per cent for the subscription players and 10.6 per cent for commercial free-to-air.

Overall, the screen sector’s total income increased marginally over those four years, from $11.9 billion to $12.1 billion.

Compared to the 2011-12 survey, TV drama fell from 632 hours to 497 and TV documentary declined from 566 to 444. 

“Whilst we appreciate the cost per hour of drama is up from $560,700 to $645,700, the reduction in the amount of Australian stories on free-to-air television is notable,” said Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason.

TV drama accounted for just 0.6 per cent of total broadcast hours and children’s drama represented 120 hours or 0.1 per cent, with an average $476,100 cost per hour.

The average cost per hour of broadcast documentaries was $230,000 while the 347 non-TV documentary productions had an average cost of $117,900.

Feature films, TV drama and children’s TV drama were the biggest sources of income for production businesses, representing 30.7 per cent of their $2.3 billion revenues.

Visual effects delivered $124.4 million or 31.2 per cent of the total for film and video post-production businesses, followed by animation at 19.8 per cent.

There were 112 domestic and foreign feature films produced in the period, with an average cost per production of $4.6 million. Some 3,248 episodes of web series were made, up from 107 four years earlier.

Total production costs for film, television and videos amounted to $3.4 billion, rising by 15.5 per cent.

Film and video post-production businesses reported operating profit before tax of $48.1 million, stemming from a 20.9 per cent jump in total income.

Digital game developers reaped $111.1 million despite a decline in digital game productions from 245 to 178. 

The survey found a record 31,262 people were employed in the screen sector across 3,359 businesses, up from 29,671 employees four years earlier. Digital game developers had the biggest gain in employees, surging by 26 per cent. 

Indeed the online content creators represented $93.6 million of non-TV production costs compared to just $5.5 million in 2011-12.

Mason said: “It is encouraging to see that for 2015-16 the total income of the screen sector was up, as was the number of people the industry employs.

“The survey results also highlight pressures in the industry, such as the increasing cost of creating drama. This, coupled with fragmenting audiences and technology changes, is having a real impact, starkly apparent in television this week.”

 The survey covered 1,202 businesses.  Read the full report here