ABC at risk of less Drama for lower costs

ABC at risk of less Drama for lower costs

ABC may be facing a future of being “sidelined” by rising costs and streaming competition according to a former ABC Director of Television.

Sandra Levy, an ABC Alumni Board Member, has penned an opinion piece for ABC Alumni which warns the costs of drama production could squeeze the public broadcaster making it harder and harder to air home-grown, high-quality drama.

“The average cost per hour of drama on the streamers is $3.3m while the ABC’s is less than $2m,” she writes.

“In Australia, as in the rest of the world, the streamers are increasing the cost of drama and changing the audience for whom it’s made. Audiences now have access to screen drama with the best actors, directors, writers and composers in the world, attracted by the bigger budgets and more ambitious stories. The stories need to appeal internationally as that is the remit of the streamers, to attract big numbers of viewers in any country and from any language and cultural background. This affects the choices of stories, the need for a kind of universalism – more of an airport book than a small local story. It’s a trend that’s continuing to grow.

“The ABC can afford to spend about $300 million a year on ALL content on all platforms – screen, audio and text – apart from news and current affairs. That’s less than the streaming services spend in Australia on drama alone.”

At the ABC, producers generally get about a third of the total cost and need to raise the remaining two-thirds elsewhere, but Levy predicts soon ABC will only be able to pay a quarter of the cost, or a fifth, making it an increasingly unattractive place for the producers to do business.

“The risk is that ABC drama becomes a kind of low budget ghetto, restricted to choosing only those stories that can be made for less money, thus restricting the range and genre of their content,” she suggests.

She continues, “Both the ABC and Screen Australia are funded by government and their funds are finite. It is not possible for Screen Australia to be able to fill the funding gap increasingly created by the shortfall in ABC funding.

“Free-to-air audiences are shrinking at the same time as the audiences for streaming services are growing and growing. With a lack of additional funding to fill the gap, it seems the ABC is facing a future of less and less drama, and the drama that it does acquire will be lower-cost, in fewer genres and with more limited ambition.

“The ABC, once the proud home of abundant high-quality drama across all genres of storytelling, is at risk of being comprehensively sidelined.”

You can read more here: ABC Alumni