CEO’s 2019 Year in Review and 2020 Preview

Today the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia (MPDAA) published the finalised box office data for 2019, with Australian films taking $40.2 million at the local box office. Rachel Griffiths’ directorial debut Ride Like A Girl, which was funded through Screen Australia’s Gender Matters program, was the highest-grossing feature.

The data completes the set of annual, objective metrics Screen Australia utilises to monitor the health of the local screen industry, including the annual Drama Report, ratings, viewership, and the agency’s own spend on content.

“The Australian screen industry performed solidly in 2019, with creators not only producing works that resonated with audiences, but with the sector remaining incredibly resilient despite the upending of entertainment business models globally,” said Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia. “In part that is due to the bedrock of direct and indirect government funding that ensures Australian stories are told, but the bottom line is a film or series needs to be quality to attract the kind of solid viewership we’re seeing. To that end, our local creators are to be congratulated.”

“Despite the explosion of choice, Australians are still seeking out local stories on television, at the cinema and online. Compared to other English-speaking markets, Australia produces exceptional, internationally regarded content at a fraction of the budget one would expect in the UK and US, and at a volume that belies our small population.”

“Where and how Australians are consuming that content is undeniably changing, with real time TV viewing shrinking as catch-up is growing. We’re also seeing consumers make very deliberate choices about the type of film they want to see at the cinema, as opposed to enjoying at home, compounded by the continued squeeze on the indie film market. Documentary remains popular, particularly on the public broadcasters, and the resurgence of theatrical docs that started in 2016 is continuing. The online content we’re funding is growing in production values and often duration, and the fact the 2019 top trending YouTube video in Australia was a scripted series by Superwog is extraordinary.”

“How commercial success can be measured is diverging by format, and as an industry we need to take a more nuanced approach rather than relying on old metrics in isolation. Linear television series are still expected to perform strongly from episode 1, as are films on their opening weekend. Yet in practice, this is the opposite of the viewing behaviour that streamers and online platforms like YouTube are training us to adopt, where you discover and consume content in your own time.”

“Whilst the viewer may make no distinction about how a piece of content got on their screen, in reality productions are now also financed in completely different ways. Producers of a film made for cinema or a terrestrial TV series will typically enjoy a long tail of income as international, home entertainment and auxiliary rights are sold. Conversely, streamers are now buying the worldwide release of a title for a flat fee, providing a swift payday and incredible profile to creators, but with no further income due and no promise they will ever know how many people watched their work. Online platforms are offering an entirely different business model again, and in Australia we often see scripted creators supplementing that income with live theatre offerings.”

“As a result, at Screen Australia we are looking to fund productions that are not only creatively exceptional, but are crafted and financed for the new market conditions. We want to see very deliberate choices in budget, the use of Offsets, target audience, release strategy and international partners, with success measures that are realistic. The aim is to support creatively and culturally significant work that resonates with audiences, and from which the creators financially benefit.”

Screen Australia directly injected nearly $76 million into the screen sector in 2018/19, including over $54 million in TV, film and documentary production funding which triggered over $360 million in activity (refer appendix 3). An additional $207.69 million was provided by the Federal Government through the Producer Offset tax incentive administered by Screen Australia.

The latest Drama Report found 2018/19 expenditure on Australian scripted titles was a record-breaking $768 million, driven by an all-time record spend on Australian television and a five-year high spend on Australian features.

“All signs point to 2020 being an incredibly busy year for both the production and release of Australian stories. Coupled with the fact the production of foreign works in Australia has been bolstered by several large productions, Australia has become a very robust and competitive screen market.”

As of January 2020, Screen Australia has 35 films, 29 feature documentaries, 14 TV shows, 27 TV documentaries, 10 kids’ shows, 12 online series and 10 online documentaries in various stages of production or release.

2020 cinema releases have already begun with True History of the Kelly Gang and Go! (to be released as Go Karts outside of Australia on Netflix), with confirmed release dates for H is for Happiness (6 Feb), Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (27 Feb), The Wishmas Tree (27 Feb), Undertow (27 Feb), Never Too Late (23 Apr), I Am Woman (21 May), The Dry (27 Aug), and Penguin Bloom (1 Jan 2021). Indigenous anthology Cook 2020 will also screen. Gender Matters developed feature Relic will have its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival and H is for Happiness will have its international premiere at Berlinale.

The Gloaming (Stan) began the 2020 television debuts, to be followed later in the year by Stateless (ABC, 1 March), RFDS (Seven), Halifax Retribution (Nine), The Secrets She Keeps (10), Hungry Ghosts (SBS), New Gold Mountain (SBS), First Day (ABC), Fallout (ABC) and Fresh Blood comedy graduate Why Are You Like This? (ABC/Netflix). Stateless and Mystery Road series 2 will both premiere at Berlinale. Returning series include Little J & Big Cuz (NITV), Bluey (ABC), How to Stay Married (Ten), The Heights (ABC) and Bloom (Stan).

Online content due for release includes the LGBTQI+ drama Cloudy River, horror anthology Deadhouse Dark and Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Dev Patel’s animated virtual reality short Roborovski.

2020 documentary releases began with SBS’s Marry Me, Marry My Family, with forthcoming titles including feature Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra, Scott Pape’s Money School (Foxtel), Revelation with Sarah Ferguson (ABC), Warwick Thornton’s The Beach (NITV), Who Gets to Stay in Australia? (SBS), Dark Emu (ABC), and Shaun Micallef’s On The Sauce (ABC). Australia in Colour and Every Family Has a Secret will both return to SBS.

TELEVISION

Five BedroomsFive Bedrooms

“In 2019 we saw a wave of new shows on the small screen that were of an incredibly high calibre. Foxtel’s Lambs of God became the most nominated show in AACTA history, ABC’s Total Control was Australia’s first series selected for the Toronto International Film Festival and Network 10 quickly ordered season two of Five Bedrooms such was the audience demand. True Australian stories on TV also remain perennially popular, with 2019 producing landmark titles such as Australia in Colour and Love on the Spectrum that became community talking points.”

“It’s also fantastic to see creators benefiting from their original IP. Every Cloud Productions developed the Miss Fisher property originally for the ABC, followed by a hit spin-off for Channel Seven last year, a Chinese adaption on the way and now one of the most anticipated films of 2020 in Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.”

“Amongst the new players, it was telling that Stan built its entire 2019/20 summer strategy around four Australian titles, which was a very public endorsement of the ability of local content to attract audiences.”

Half of the top 10 Australian dramas in 2019 were broadcast on the ABC, with all the commercial free to air broadcasters also represented amongst the most popular shows. Most of the top 10 were debut series.

Position

Title

Episodes

Broadcaster

Ratings^

1

Utopia series 4

8

ABC

1,200,000

2

Home and Away series 32

243

Seven

1,031,000

3

Total Control*

6

ABC

1,012,000

4

Seachange*

8

Nine

997,000

5

The Cry

4

ABC

936,000

6

Bad Mothers*

8

Nine

934,000

7

Harrow series 2

10

ABC

934,000

8

Five Bedrooms series 1*

8

Ten

865,000

9

Ms Fisher’s MODern Murder Mysteries*

4

Seven

805,000

10

Les Norton*

10

ABC

775,000

*Screen Australia funded. ^average audience, metro + regional 28 day, see source notes.

The decline in linear television viewing is in part being offset by growing catch-up consumption. For instance, The Hunting became SBS’s highest-rated drama commission ever with 624,000 viewers^, which was further amplified by 194,000 to 242,000# viewers watching each episode on SBS on Demand. The Cry recorded the biggest catch-up audience of any Australian drama with 267,000 – 318,000 viewers per episode on ABC iview#. The introduction of OzTAM’s Virtual Australia in 2020 is expected to make it easier to measure total viewership going forward. (#VPM, video player measurement see source notes.)

“Although it premiered in 2018, special mention must be made for Ludo Studio’s now global hit Bluey, which had a series rating of 2.4 million in 2019 on ABC iview alone” (figure courtesy of the ABC, OzTAM Plays Begin Event, VPM Average). Disney reported Bluey reached 16 million US viewers in the last quarter of 2019 since its launch on Disney Junior in October.

Australian television documentaries remain popular, with the bulk of content commissioned by the public broadcasters.

Due to complexities in the definition of documentary, only the top 10 Screen Australia-funded television documentaries are included below. A notable addition is the ABC’s Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds which captured the nation’s heartstrings, and 1,118,000 viewers^.

Series remain the most popular documentary format, however demand for the Michael Hutchence feature documentary Mystify was also strong, despite having had a successful cinema run in the same year.

Position

Title

Episodes

Broadcaster

Ratings^

1

Magical Land of Oz

3

ABC

928,000

2

The Cult of the Family

3

ABC

818,000

3

Love on the Spectrum

4

ABC

797,000 preliminary

4

The Crown and Us: The Story of the Royals in Australia

2

ABC

787,000

5

Aftermath: Beyond the Firestorm

1

ABC

767,000

6

Mystify

1

ABC

746,000

7

The Pool

2

ABC

669,000

8

Australia in Colour series 1

4

SBS

578,000

9

Employable Me series 2

3

ABC

556,000

10

Every Family has a Secret series 1

3

SBS

541,000

^average audience, metro + regional 28 day, see source notes.

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