TV Drama Production Hits Record Levels in Australia

The continued renaissance of Australian television saw production values exceed $725 million, according to Screen Australia’s annual Drama Report.

SYDNEY - Record levels of spending on Australian TV dramas like the upcoming INXS mini-series Never Tear Us Apart, Rake and the HBO Asia co-production Serangoon Road, fuelled an increase in the value of drama production in the country. Spending is up 9 percent year on year to AUS$752 million ($725 million), according to Screen Australia’s annual drama report released Thursday.

Australian broadcasters, led by public broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC), which commissioned and invested in 30 dramas and comedies, all increased their investment in local drama in the 2012/13 financial year, producing 56 programs over 656 hours, totaling $59 million, the largest ever investment in TV drama and an increase of 27 percent on the prior year.

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Adult TV drama contributed the lion's share of this, while levels of children’s TV drama production also increased, following a contraction over the last three years. Mini-series production continued to climb while telefilm production fell and TV series and serials remained steady.

“There is clearly a growing demand from local audiences for Australian stories, across multiple platforms and new channels,” said Screen Australia CEO Ruth Harley. “Australian stories are important to the cultural fabric of our society and contribute to our social belonging and sense of national identity. Moreover, our stories are resonating with international audiences as demonstrated by multiple format sales overseas for Australian television dramas such as Rake and A Moody Christmas,”  she added.

The figures also underscore the reasoning behind Screen Australia’s recent decision to commit over $38,600 a year in additional development funding for internationally driven high-end television drama

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But if TV production was the standout, feature film production slipped – partially because big budget local productions like The Great Gatsby and I, Frankenstein were included in last year's numbers. The value of local feature production fell 16 percent from last year's high of $286 million. Twenty seven Australian features were made worth $241 million. 

And disconcertingly for the local feature sector: there were no co-productions made for the first time in 14 years.

Harley noted that the drop in Australian feature film activity “reflects the cyclical nature of feature film production.

"[We] achieved a strong result with compelling Australian stories including The Rover and Tracks. A diverse ecology of projects across all budget ranges is needed to ensure a vibrant and healthy film production sector,” she said.

Six foreign features were made in Australia during the year, and their value rose primarily from The Wolverine, although this was the only studio based film shot here during the year. The Great Gatsby and I , Frankenstein are considered Australian productions. Four Indian films and a Singapore feature were made here and two foreign TV dramas were  also shot in Australia. Six foreign features, including The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Iron Man 3 and Seventh Son that weren’t made here all undertook post, digital and visual effects in Australia.

The total value of foreign production to the Australian sector was $125.4 million, up from $94.5 million last year.

There was major consolidation in the pdv sector during the period with FuelVFX acquired by Animal Logic and Digital Pictures bought by Deluxe Entertainment Services. And despite the increase of the offset to 30 percent many companies struggled to attract foreign work, mostly due to the high Australian dollar, according to the report.