ITV Studios Australia MD David Mott is encouraged to see the Aussie networks are still looking to commission shows despite the slump in advertising revenues.
He praises the JobKeeper initiative, addresses the challenges of working remotely and expresses concern if the suspension of the local content quotas continues next year.
Q: The Voice premieres on Nine on May 24. Are safe distancing restrictions impacting the production?
A: We had already shot the Blinds and Battles in February and early March so these were unaffected. Of the remaining episodes we have applied the government’s COVID-19 protocols and our own ITV Studios protocols to ensure the safety and well being of all coaches, hosts, contestants and, equally important, our crew.
I could not be happier with the workarounds The Voice team have worked tirelessly on. Whilst the production of these episodes will clearly look a little different the team have made a real feature of it and, if anything, it will be a celebration of what we can all achieve in these difficult times.
Q: As you know ITV in the UK has postponed the summer edition of Love Island, which was due to shoot in Mallorca, until 2021. You still aim to make Love Island Australia this year?
A: We will continue to assess the situation as to when there is an appropriate opportunity to bring this format back to market.
Q: Still hoping Nine will renew SeaChange?
A: Never say never but clearly Australian drama has been challenged during this period but ITV and Every Cloud were very proud of the series. In today’s world for an Australian drama series to average 650,000 viewers is a very good result when other dramas have fared far less.
Q: Insuring future productions will be difficult, if not impossible, since COVID-19 is now excluded from all policies. CJZ’s Nick Murray and See-Saw Films’ Emile Sherman have called on the government to cover that risk. Thoughts?
A: I completely agree. We are all lobbying Canberra for a rescue package to reignite the industry, not only from an insurance perspective but to save our industry and employ thousands of very talented individuals who must get back to telling Australian stories and quickly.
Q: Screen Australia’s recent funding announcement was welcome, not least with the four TV scripted series commissioned by the ABC, Nine and SBS. In general, are the networks still open to commissioning?
A: Yes, they are commissioning but clearly the broadcasters have suffered through an extremely challenging period with a significant loss in ad revenue. Having been on that side of the business [at Network 10 and the Nine Network] it’s a difficult position to be in but there are very good conversations around existing formats and new formats.
Q: Do you have a preference for one of the four models proposed in the Screen Australia-ACMA options paper, or a variation thereof, or will SPA take the lead on that?
A: I would argue strongly for option 3 with variations. The world is much smaller now due to technology so even more reason to ensure we maintain our voice to tell Australian stories and who we are as a nation. This is not only to entertain millions of Australians today but to protect our identity for generations of Australians to come. And not mention the thousands of talented individuals the industry employ every year. It is terrific to see many of the media industry sector coming together to find a common position to present to government.
Q: Has the JobKeeper subsidy enabled you to retain at least some staff?
A: Political preferences aside, JobKeeper is one of the most outstanding initiatives implemented by a government for many years. Yes, it clearly has benefited many individuals in our business including ITV Studios employees.
Q: I think it’s generally accepted that the suspension of the local content quotas for the commercial broadcasters and pay TV drama channels won’t mean much in practical terms this year as no one can produce anything. But are you concerned the government may decide to extend the quotas next year?
A: I do feel common sense will prevail here and frankly to extend the relaxation into 2021 will be devastating for the entire industry.
Q: On a personal note how are you coping with the lockdown? Working remotely? Spending more time on development?
A: I’ve painted the house (or, rather, my wife has arranged it to happen) and I have mastered the art of topiary. Seriously though, we have managed to keep all our shows going with significant workarounds but I do miss the interaction with my team.
Our industry, possibly more than others, thrives on that creativity sitting in a room together and that virtual room just doesn’t work for me nearly as well. Pitching shows to broadcasters is not easy at the best of times let alone in a virtual room when dogs are barking, people arrive late, your mute is on and sizzle reels end up jumping 10 frames a second.
I am enormously proud of my entire ITV Studios team how they have embraced this new normal.