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Takeaways from AIDC: The Australian International Documentary Conference

 1.       Planning:

Unlike convict-stained Sydney, Adelaide was founded in the 1830’s as a planned colony, a utopia for English gentry in a distant land.

  • You can feel those original vibes to this day:  In Adelaide, and in Sydney!

AIDC picked up on Adelaide’s ‘model planning’ theme.  It was an excellently administered conference, with:

  • Solid and diverse sessions.
  • Balance across traditional docs, reality entertainment and formats.
  • Lots of well-attended doc screenings.
  • Plenty of time for quality networking.
  • And to top it all off, a tour of the delightful Barossa Valley wine-making district.

Congrats to the AIDC team!

2.       Aussie Content Rises

A big theme at AIDC was the rise and rise of Aussie content on Australian broadcast and even cab/sat networks.

  • My first executive job in New York was at CBS International.
  • I administered a huge output deal to the Nine Network. It covered News, Current Affairs (’60 Minutes’), Movies of the Week, some Sports and other odds and ends.

The job that eased my crawl into American middle management wouldn’t exist today:

  • AIDC panelists reported again and again that the era of the American output deals is over and done.
  • The broadcasters, as well as FOXTEL’s cable channels, have transferred their allegiance to locally produced programs.
  • This huge shift is good for affordable, Australian-made factual programs which comprise ‘a lot of the fibre in the new Aussie TV diet’.

3.       The End of the Era of Entitlement?

  • As the pendulum swung away from government funding of public television and the Arts, many Australian producers hung on to a sense of entitlement longer than in other markets.
  • I often heard rants against the networks and funding agencies for not embracing the often issue-driven projects that had earned a nice living for many producers in the ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties.
  • At AIDC 2013, there was more acceptance that factual television has shifted towards entertainment, and that producers need to be open to new formats and genres if they want to thrive.

4.       Formats

  • Fascinating presentations from Absolutely Independent’s Patty Geneste and Nat Geo Channel’s David Lyle reminded us of the scale of the global format market.
  • According to Patty Geneste, global format production was estimated at 9.3 million Euros back in 2009.
  • And it has grown fast since: in Scripted (for example ‘Homeland’ is an Israeli format) as well as in light entertainment.
  • Inspired by these AIDC panels, we’ll cover the factual Format sector in depth in coming weeks.

5.       Still the ‘Lucky Country’ … But For Producers, It’s Better to Be Canadian

  • Australia is the lucky land of the perfect flat white.  It dodged the GFC.  Extractive industry sales to China buoy the economy.
  • Even Aussie roofers drive imports. Compare the U.S. where housing construction workers live with their grandparents because neither they nor their parents have had jobs for a half decade.
  • But Aussie nonfiction television producers lack opportunities compared to their Canadian counterparts.
  • Australia lacks the regulatory framework and the scale of public funding that anchor the relatively thriving Canadian sector.
  • Canada promoted universal multichannel access, and then regulated Canadian ownership of channels. The channels’ business plans are based on mandated subscriber license fees.  This package is backed by stringent local content quotas.  (Read our recent popular post on Discovery Canada.)
  • Australia’s politicians handed over the leverage to the broadcasting oligarchs, and in cab/sat to Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd and its Foxtel operation.
  • Local commissions are on the rise, but lag compared with the comparably-scaled Canadian market.

6.       See Our AIDC Video’s

Thanks to videographer Sean Elliott and the AIDC team, we grabbed several brief iPhone interviews on the fly.

Don’t miss:

  • The Importance of Character
    Steve Burns, Rollercoaster Road Productions
  • A Short History of ‘The Pitch Session’ / The Perfect Pitch
    Pat Ferns, Ferns Productions
  • What’s Happening in China?
    Steven Seidenberg, LIC-BCBC China
  • Documentary Distribution in our Digitized World
    Tim Sparke, Mercury Media International
  • Film Production in the Remote and Vast Northern Territory
    Penelope McDonald, Screen Territory
  • Documentary Distribution for the Education Market
    Andrew Pike, Ronin Films
  • Trends in Children’s Factual
    Thierry Bled, ABC Children’s Television
  • Trends in the 3D Doc Market
    Torsten Hoffmann, 3D Content Hub
  • On Documentary Ethics
    David Tiley, Screen Hub


  • Robert Hughes ‘The Fatal Shore’.
    A brilliant warts-and-all love story about the European settlement of Australia. Its an evergreen.
  • Sue Mathews & Peter Hamilton ‘American Dreams: Australian Movies’
    Documents the unexpected arrival of Aussie movies and talent in the US.

More on South Australia’s Attractions


Speaking Engagements

April 6, Cannes

Do’s & Don’ts of Getting the Right Partners on Board

David Royle, EVP Programming and Production, Smithsonian Networks, USA
Peter Hamilton, Editor & Publisher,, USA. Twitter: @doctvdotcom



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