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SPA highlight concerning trends in the production sector

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Screen Producers Australia (SPA) today welcomed the release of Screen Australia’s drama report for 2020-21.

It showed a record spend of $1.9 billion total Australian expenditure of which $874 million was spent on Australian content.

“Whilst we welcome the overall strong result, the $874 million in Australian content expenditure was in fact only a modest rise on pre-pandemic levels ($797 million 2018/19). This is of concern given this year’s figure would include a substantial number of projects which were delayed in 2019/20 and which subsequently commenced in 2020/21,”

– said SPA CEO Matthew Deaner.

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It would appear that the large increase in the total investment figure has been generated by a marked uptick in foreign productions ($1.04 billion up from $413 million pre-pandemic).

“Whilst this activity offers a welcome economic boost, it does not provide any local upside in terms of intellectual property generation and fewer opportunities for local creatives and cast. These productions contribute a minimal amount to the building of sustainable local production businesses and do not enhance our ability to create Australian cultural content that speaks with a genuinely Australian voice,”

– said Deaner.

The uptick in inbound investment which came because Australia was an attractive filming destination while a number of short-term environmental factors prevailed, had its own challenging impact for the local sector, which competed with international productions for access to local crews.

“We need to treat the Drama Report numbers with caution, because whilst they present a very strong top-line figure, a closer examination reveals challenging conditions for local Australian productions,”

– said Deaner.

Also, of concern is that the figures reveal a significant structural adjustment in television drama, showing the lowest number of hours in the past 5 years and spend not correcting from pre-pandemic levels. SPA also notes that the full impact of the de-regulation of Australian drama on commercial free-to-air television would not yet have flowed through into this year’s report, suggesting further structural adjustment should be expected.

There are also strong warning signs in the deeper data relating to children’s drama, with the industry’s concerns following removal of quotas on commercial free-to-air television playing out in real time. Whilst there is a stability in the top line investment figures, total number of titles and total number of hours both approximately halved. This represents a fairly significant structural change, with fewer opportunities for production businesses and confirms feedback received from SPA’s members regarding significant upheaval in the sector.

Further, whilst top line figures for feature film look promising, we note these numbers are substantially influenced by the inclusion of studio backed productions such as Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, and George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing.

Looking across to SVOD and online, SPA welcomes the investment of $125 million in online drama as a strong and welcome indication of the potential for extensive engagement with local audiences that these platforms hold.

“The investment figure from streaming services comes against the backdrop of global streaming content budgets of AU$37 billion[1] and strengthens the case in favour of the appropriateness of ongoing safeguards which protect local investment from outside fluctuations,”

said Deaner.

Looking forward, the industry will be substantially boosted by the increase in support for small screen productions through the Producer Offset, which passed the Parliament last week. As noted above, there is also substantial upside for industry and viewers on the table awaiting the Government’s decision on new Australian content rules for streaming services, which could include measures to promote discoverability of Australian content.

“We congratulate Screen Australia on the delivery of this critical piece of research, which provides important visibility into the long-term health of scripted content production in Australia,”

– said Deaner.

“We continue to believe there’s a role for a broader study of all Australian content in different genres and will continue to advocate for robust info for the whole sector, so that industry-wide trends can be tracked and understood,”

– said Deaner.

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