Making Aussie content that works for FTA and streamers, locally and globally: BBC and Werner

On producing the soon-to-be-launched Top Gear Australia: “The questions that arose were who is our audience? How are we talking to them?”

Producing Australian dramas that strike a balance between speaking to international audiences while maintaining a palpable Aussie identity is the focus for Werner Film Productions, the outfit recently acquired by BBC Studios.

The Newsreader has been a big success for us, and we have sold to more than 80 territories while performing extremely well in Australia,” Jo Werner, company director at Werner Film Productions told Mediaweek

“We’re trying to make stories that are specific to Australia, but universal in theme, and we hope that specificity makes distinctiveness in the market.

“In the case of The Newsreader, we’re not pretending to be an American show. We’re being a grounded Australian show and I think the quality of the storytelling is what has translated to international appeal.”

BBC The Newsreader

BBC Studios Productions Australia announced the acquisition of the independent production company last week.

Werner Film Productions specialises in the development of original drama series including The Newsreader for ABC, which was also broadcast on the BBC, and Surviving Summer for Netflix. 

The deal will provide Werner Film Productions with the backing to grow its production of drama series for Australian and global audiences.

Kylie Washington, general manager and creative director of BBC Studios, said that Australia’s production landscape provides content that speaks to Australians, but there is challenge involved. 

We’re making content for Australian linear television, but we’re also making content for the streamers,” she said.

“I have these conversations regularly when we are looking at scripting. More recently, we were planning the opening piece to camera on the new series of Top Gear Australia, which has been commissioned for Australia [launching on Paramount+ in May], but it is going global.

“The questions that arose were who is our audience? How are we talking to them? How are we landing it here for an Australian audience, but also for someone overseas? How an international viewer is going to receive a certain piece of Australian content is important to us.”

Both Werner and Washington agree that for a story to land for both an Australian viewer and an international viewer, it has to be grounded in an Australian context.

“At Werner, I think we make grounded drama and it’s a distinctive thing for us. We make our stories and characters grounded because I think Australian audiences have a high bullshit metre,” Werner said.

If we were doing a political drama in Canberra where everyone is talking like they are high-flying spies, our audience would call bullshit in a second. Knowing that that’s part of our culture, it seeps into the way we tell our stories, and I think it’s a good thing.”

BBC Surviving Summer

Surviving Summer

This year, the federal government will introduce a bill that implements content quotas for streaming services to reinvest in the local industry. Free-to-air networks already deal with local content quotas.

“It’s integral that we have the continual support for telling Australian stories, our industry just won’t survive without that,” Washington said, speaking on the proposed legislation.

“We’ve seen that when quotas are in place, in other countries, it works, so we’re hopeful that we will also be in that same position come July 1.”

Werner Film Productions is currently in production on the third series of The Newsreader, which has won multiple awards, including 10 AACTAs and two Logies. It ranked fourth in Variety’s list of the best international TV shows of 2022, while teen surfing drama Surviving Summer’s second series spent two weeks in Netflix’s global top 10. 

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