Funding cuts revealed at Screen Australia

29 July, 2015 by Don Groves

Facing four years of budget cuts, Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason has challenged producers to think of new ways of funding and distributing content and to scrap projects which have languished for years in development.

Addressing a forum in Sydney on Tuesday night, Mason revealed how program spending will be impacted by the last federal budget, which cut its funding by $3.6 million over four years.


Total investment dropped from $77 million in 2013/2014 to $66.8 million in 2014/2015 and is projected to be $67 million in the current fiscal year.

In the past two financial years funding for features declined from $24.1 million to $19.1 million but this year will be $20-22 million.  "Films recoup more money than everything else we do," he told a packed house at the Palace Verona.

Adult TV drama rose from $11.8 million to $14 million but will be trimmed to $10-12 million while children’s drama dropped from $8.3 million to $6.9 million but will go up to $8-10 million.

Funding for documentaries was steady at $19.1 million and $19 million but will drop to $17-18 million.

Mason said Treasury had determined that funding for digital works is not recurring and will cease but the agency will continue to invest in online content, with $4-5 million allocated in the current year, compared with $4.8 million last year.

Indigenous funding declined from $5.1 million to $3 million and this year will be $3-4 million.

He said, "We are anticipating increased demand in features, solid demand in TV drama, a continuing soft children’s sector, a little push back against documentary (after a 12 month reprieve) and no change to online."

Mason foreshadowed a significant drop in total screen spending in the year to June 30 from $837 million the prior year. He attributed that to the collapse in foreign investment in Australian film and TV production and to a decline in ABC drama spending.

He challenged producers to be more innovative, declaring that the existing framework for funding and distribution “does not fit any more.”

Producers should focus even more on figuring out the target audience for every project and on how to reach that audience.

He urged producers to make more films aimed at adults aged up to 35 and advised anyone who has been developing a project for as long as 10 years to accept “it’s over” and move on to new projects.

Screen Australia reaffirmed its support for the screen industry's calls for the 20 per cent producer offset for TV to be doubled.

Stressing the crucial role of the producer offset, he said, "While direct funding in the order of $75 – $85 million is provided to the sector through Screen Australia annually, the offset provides nearly $200 million to the sector each year. Since the introduction of the offset in July 2007, budgets of $4.5 billion have been triggered."

He boasted that the agency has reduced staff numbers and its annual operating costs, which were $29 million in 2008-09 and are projected to fall to $17 million in 2016-17. 

Mason noted 161 Australian films, including 100 co-funded by the agency, are screening on Netflix and Stan.