Screen Producers Australia (SPA) today welcomed the release of the 2022/23 Screen Australia Drama Report, the annual tabulation of expenditure on drama titles in Australia, a long-running marker about part of the industry’s overall health. Although noted with concern the marker of an overall decline in expenditure on Australian stories.
“The activity in the screen industry that these figures point to is great news on one level, but the deeper you look at the figures and know more of the challenges behind the scenes, the more troubling the overall trends are for Australian audiences wanting to see authentic Australian stories on different screens,” SPA CEO Matt Deaner said.
“We are particularly concerned about the overall decline in expenditure on Australian stories noting that spending on Australian drama million is down from $1,529m to $1,124m – and is now less than 50% of the overall drama spend for 2022-23 (last year it was 63%).
“Meanwhile spending on foreign drama (TV and VOD drama and features) has gone from $905m last year to $1,220m this year, or from 37% of the total drama spend to now 52% of total drama spend.
“There’s no doubt many factors driving this changing mix from spending on Australian drama to increased foreign drama, including a significant drop in Australian feature film spend, but we know that these high figures for foreign spend are subject to global trends and many factors outside of Australia’s control.
“Next year we can expect the investment figures to indicate falls in foreign titles reflecting the negative effects of a decline in activity caused by the USA actors and to a lesser extent writers strikes.
“Continuing investments in Australian content by streaming services are welcome in their own right and as a stabilising measure and represent slightly less but overall similar levels of activity from the previous financial year.
“These are investments made in the context of the continuing conversations between the Australian Government and industry stakeholders to bring certainty of investment in Australian stories from streaming services, which was the promise to audiences and industry from our new National Cultural Policy Revive.
“However, our overall concern is that without oversight to protect rights and intellectual property consistent with key international screen territories and in other Australian industries that are oligopsony structures (such as the grocery industry), Australia is at risk of limiting itself to being a service industry for the international market.
“This is because even with investment in Australian titles, there is an increasing lack of ownership and control of our own intellectual property which is a clear pathway to losing our ability to generate our own stories and being able to benefit economically and culturally from their creation.
“These problems need urgent Government attention and the trend is highly troubling for the future of our industry.
“The Drama Report figures mask what is an increasing wealth transfer away from our creative industry caused by unchecked market behaviours in commissioning, the worse being from global streamers.
“We are pleased to see a slight increase in drama investment appearing on commercial free-to-air but we are again concerned that this is coming off too low a bar. Also worrying is that all broadcasters and streamers continue to turn their back on Australian child audiences with the ABC the only commissioner making a significant effort to invest in Australian children’s stories.
“It’s remarkable that the ABC, even with a limited budget, now invests in an astounding 75% of children’s content – carrying an unreasonable ongoing load here. Five years ago this investment was 45%.
“It’s vital that the Australian Government include measures to ensure increased children’s content in its regulation of streaming services and to address a now overdue review of what is clearly a weak and ineffective points system for commercial broadcasters at a time when these businesses are being publicly supported by forthcoming new regulations on prominence and anti-siphoning, but doing very little in return.
“This can’t continue to be a one-way street,” said Mr Deaner.