Australia’s drama production fell to five-year lows in 2019/20, with the exception of foreign spend, which was way up, according to Screen Australia’s new drama report, which charts the havoc Covid-19 has wreaked on the country’s production industries.
Screen Australia’s 2019/20 drama report tells a chilling – if expected – tale of the havoc Covid-19 wreaked on the domestic drama industry. While media authorities in much of the region don’t publish similar studies, there’s little that says widespread shut downs haven’t had an impact as dramatic... or worse. And this may not even be all of it. Screen Australia acknowledges the difficulty of effectively capturing the full scale of the pandemic’s impact, and says the data captured “does not adequately reflect the personal cost to cast and crew, and it is doubtful that it illustrates the full economic cost, which may take years to be realised”.
The pandemic is estimated to have postponed around 26 Australian drama titles with total budgets exceeding A$325m/US$239m. Several of these titles are now slated to enter production in 2020/21, which is affecting the scheduling of other titles. “The pandemic continues to seriously affect the development, production, and release of drama throughout Australia,” the report says.
Drama production spend in 2019/20 fell well below five-year averages, with the exception of A$447m/US$329m foreign spend on 41 productions, which is two less than last year but way up on the previous three years. 23 of the foreign productions (including those coming to Australia for post-production, digital and visual effects) in 2019/20 were feature films (A$255m/US$188m spend), three are general TV drama (total A$1m/US$736,218) and two were online dramas with spend of less than A$1 million. The five-year foreign-spend average is A$384m/US$283m.
Total spend dropped 18% to A$991 million/US$729 million, including A$543m/US$399m (55%) on Australian titles that started principal photography during 2019/20.
A$205m/US$150m was spent on 19 Australian features, a 36% decrease on last year and 20% below the five-year average. 20 Australian general TV drama titles attracted spend of A$198m/US$145m – a drop of 39% on last year’s record spend, and 31% below the five-year average. Hours were down by 19%.
Online drama, defined as programmes that debut on streaming platforms such as Stan and ABC iView, tells the most optimistic story, with hours up by 16% even though there were fewer titles, and “considerable” increases in budgets/spend. Total spend on Australian online drama almost doubled from A$49m/US$36m in 2018/9 to A$94m/US$69m in 2019/20. Average per hour spend rose from A$1.31m/US$964,278 to A$1.74m/US$1.28m.
79% of the 19 features that started production in 2019/20 were made for less than A$10m/US$7.4m. The proportion of features being made in the sub-A$1 million range has declined steadily over the last four years, while production in the A$1-5m range has remained relatively consistent.
Expenditure on Australian general TV drama was down 39% on 2018/19’s record spend. A$198m/US$146m was spent on 20 general TV drama titles that commenced production during the year and generated 351 hours of content. These titles had total budgets of A$198m/US$146m, which translates to A$564,000/US$415,152 per hour. Across the total general TV drama slate, hours, budgets, spend, and average cost per hour were the lowest in over 10 years, the report found.
Published in ContentAsia's December 2020 magazine