StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Australia: Rich in Coal and the Flat White Lifestyle. But What About Factual Commissions?

Australia is enjoying its biggest boom since the 1850’s Gold Rush:

  • The GFC wasn’t even a hiccup.
  • Carpenters sip their early morning strong flat whites and then head off to work in their Audi’s.
  • New Coal-for-China billionaires seem to be minted weekly.

Is this wealth trickling down to the Aussie Factual sector?

For the Paris Science Congress, we surveyed the Australian landscape from 20,0000 feet through interviews with local industry participants. We focused on Specials, limited series and docs. Here are our updated findings…



  • 90%+ of Australia’s total factual spend is accounted for by ABC and SBS.
  • Both are taxpayer-supported broadcasters.
    • And they are experiencing reorgs.
  • Australia’s economy is booming, and there is a traditionally sympathetic Labor government in power in Canberra
    • But neither pubcaster has benefited from a big step up in the public TV budget that would have flowed through to local unscripted production.


  • Funding from Screen Australia is steady – this year $16+/- million is budgeted for factual, indicating the  modest scale of the Australian market
  • Screen Australia’s factual spend is directed (+/-):
    • 50% for ABC
    • 40% for SBS
    • And 10% for cable/satellite channels.
  • “Screen Australia has budgeted $3-5 million for 2011/12 in the All Media Fund, a new $3-5 million Fund which encourages interactive or multi-platform innovative, risk-taking storytelling and includes factual -based projects.”

Signature Funding

  • ABC or SBS put up a license fee of around A$130,000, which is matched by Screen Australia and topped by a tax offset of around 20%.
  • The total production budget in this scheme is around $330,000, with the possibility of additional international contributions.
  • To qualify, the content needs to be Australian-themed (“watch out for a wallaby”) rather than an international topic that an Australian producer is qualified to address.
  • See our Dino Stampede Case Study for the funding secrets of a $1.2 million special copro.


  • A new Controller position adds a layer above the commissioners.
    • “We’re all waiting to see what that means.”
  • ABC1 is trending away from single docs, specials and limited series towards character-driven series.
  • ABC continues to back Science and Natural History
  • The Compass Religion & Ethics strand is moving from hours to half-hours.
  • ABC2 targets the younger demo with Lifestyle-oriented programming. There are few Science or Doc slots.


  • A new MD and a new Chair are swinging SBS back to its original mission of serving Australia’s multicultural audience.
  • Go Back Where You Came From is the new iconic SBS signature series.
  • There are no regular Science slots on SBS.


  • STUDIO is cable operator Foxtel’s Arts channel, and is beginning to commission programs.
  • “Nat Geo seems to have fallen away as an active commissioner.”
  • “Discovery is not a force.”


  • Seven Network recently commissioned a Crime/History special (Jack The Ripper) from Prospero Productions.
  • This is a very rare commitment by an Australian commercial broadcast network.

“Aussies Have the Beaches. Canada Has Wise Media Regulators”

  • Australia is a minor-to-middling factual market.
  • Aside from a handful of players like Beyond, it is a modest presence internationally.
  • Australia compares poorly with the comparably-scaled, English-speaking Canadian Unscripted market.
  • This is largely due to Canada’s wise regulatory framework that reserved the cable network spectrum for local owners…
  • And mandated a CANCON programming requirement on the licensed channels.


1. Australian Co-pro Case Study

Dino Stampede – An ABC Commission Triggers a Cascade of Tax Benefits and International Licenses

“Beyond the financial model, we asked Prospero’s Julia Redwood and Ed Punchard to share the practices that keep Prospero viable and competitive:

  • Be flexible
  • Agree in advance on the versions that will be created for the partners
  • Carefully choose reasonable and flexible partners
  • Never under-deliver
  • Always tell great stories!”

And BTW, Prospero are from Perth, epicenter of the minerals boom.

2. Canada / U.S. Coproductions

Extending the Tax Benefits of ‘Twinning’


  • Attorney Richard Hanet sees the opportunity from Twinning as a continuum where the parties have to find a ‘Sweet Spot’ that satisfies their creative, financial, copyright, and distribution requirements
  • Most major U.S. Factual channels strongly prefer to own all rights, and also to control the editorial process
  • The Twinning model may be most applicable to U.S. digi-nets who wish to share production costs with international co-pro partners


Speaking Engagements

Asian Side of the Doc
Tokyo, March 19-22
Pitfalls and Challenges of International Copro’s

Cannes, March 30
Panel: How to Get the Funds