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In Depth: Buy local: SVOD services bank on Aussie content

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In Depth: Buy local: SVOD services bank on Aussie content

Stan's first attempt at original programming is Seinfeld meets The Wire. A cop show where nothing happens as the name suggests, there is No Activity. The show is half adlib, half cop comedy and judging from the first two episodes at least 100 per cent hilarious.

But unlike the show, Australia's streaming video scene has plenty of activity. Since the arrival of Netflix earlier this year, the SVOD market has thrived in Australia, as the local contenders ramp up their offering to compete with the global giant.

In the past few months, Stan and Presto have offered significant updates to their platforms, launching apps on different devices and expanding their lineup with a wide range of international content.

But the next battlefield is the arrival of original programming, specifically created for their platforms. With both No Activity and Presto's 'Let's Talk About' set for release later this month, the battle for SVOD supremacy is ramping up significantly.

While global rival Netflix has long shouted about the importance of its original programming, the arrival of these shows clearly illustrates that targeting the smaller, Australian SVOD market doesn't mean you can survive by simply licensing other people's programming.

"Our vision," Stan CEO Mike Sneesby tells us after a screening of the first two episodes of No Activity, "is to be Australia's most-loved streaming brand. And you don't do that by following everybody else and copying each other you do it by going out and knowing what direction you want to take and then chasing that direction."

A key part of that direction for Stan is developing original Australian programming for its SVOD platform.

In addition to No Activity, Stan has also commissioned a drama series based on the iconic Australian film Wolf Creek, and is working with Screen Queensland to produce its first feature film.

"To be able to go and make good shows consistently, they're great as a key part of building a brand that's got real character and real texture in the Australian market," Sneesby expands.

For Presto CEO Shaun James, original programming is a big part of having an Australian focus a core pillar of the Presto experience. Being a joint venture between Foxtel and Channel 7, Presto is supplementing original content with locally produced shows from its parent companies.

"We certainly see [original programming] as important, so as well as Presto commissioning programming like the two we've spoken about with Let's Talk About and the Home and Away telemovie, we believe our shareholding between Foxtel and Seven is one of the reasons that the parties came together - both are very strong with respect already to domestic productions," James explains.

Seriously funny

Conspiracy theorists might get excited by the fact that the initial originals offered by both Stan and Presto are comedies, while the follow up pieces are both slated to be dramas.

But the truth is that in both cases, it was the idea, and the fact that the shows were already well-fleshed out, that convinced each service that comedy was the best way to start. In amongst a wide series of pitches from show creators, the comedy option stood out.

"Jungle Boys had such a well developed creative idea already [with No Activity], and having that whole project bundled together and people who are already attached to it with a real passion to do it has made a real difference in terms of being able to move quickly, but also in creating a great result," Sneesby tells us.

Like Stan, Presto has been inundated with pitches for a variety of shows, but the ones that have been commissioned have all had one thing in common: A great idea. And that's not an aspect of television that varies much from traditional broadcasters. In explaining why the "up the duff" comedy Let's Talk About was commissioned, James explains what kind of a show idea gets made.

"It's something that people - we think - are going to find interesting and different and innovative which is no different to someone commissioning for a broadcast network, someone commissioning for Foxtel, someone commissioning for any broadcast medium," James says.

eye for an eye home and away

That said, there are some differences between broadcast and SVOD platforms that change the way shows are consumed.

"In terms of delivery to consumer, we are different and we offer a different utility, which is that ability to stand content up at a particular point in time - you know a full series or a complete season of a particular project, and if you look at the way that people are utilising the service, they're coming to it for that on demand capability," explains James.

Sneesby also tells us that having a show available all at once changes the way it's marketed. Instead of building to a premiere, the arrival of No Activity becomes a selling point of the service for months.

"One of the advantages we have in being a streaming service is we've got less of the drivers that other traditional networks and platforms have on an episodic level. We're not relying on that how many weeks until we have to bring back viewers and what our ratings look like we can really afford to just go out and say is this a great show," Sneesby says.

Shake your moneymaker

Original programming is not just an important brand building tool something to help these new SVOD services stand apart from their competition. It's also a money making endeavor.

Netflix has made no secret of the fact that original programming is a lure to gain new subscribers around the globe. This approach is true for both Stan and Presto, too, although without the big budgets of the US giant, it's unlikely we'll see anything to the scale of a Daredevil or Marco Polo.

However, what the originals will offer these SVOD platforms is a new revenue stream in the form of licensing deals.

During a recent trip to LA to discuss licensing deals, some top Stan executives took the opportunity to show clips from No Activity to Hollywood executives. The response, across the board, was positive.

"We didn't take No Activity to LA to go and sell it, we went there for a bunch of other reasons, but the response we had from studios was just... We literally sat there in the hotel lobby bar and just went 'we think we might be onto something here'," Sneesby confesses.

"Early indications from those guys overseas, they've literally just said to us the moment they saw it: "Who's bought this show internationally and who's distributing it for you?" so I'm quite confident we're going to see more of No Activity outside of Australia as we expect to for our other titles," he adds.

Interestingly, No Activity wasn't commissioned with international distribution revenues in mind, although the interest from overseas partners is certainly welcome. But according to Sneesby, other programming will definitely be targeted at both local and international audiences.

"No Activity wasn't commissioned as a show that we were planning big international distribution, but other shows that we have in the pipeline are being designed to be produced in Australia with Australian production companies, and Australian talent but also overseas talent, and with concepts that are designed to translate internationally," he says.

"So we've literally taken that model of creating shows, creating them for our platform, creating what we know the audience in Australia wants, but giving them relevance so that we can go and generate international revenues back into Australia and put that money back into more productions here. And really, the more successful we are with international distribution, the greater the pipeline of productions we'll be able to make," Sneesby says.

All six episodes of No Activity arrive on Stan on October 22. Let's Talk About will be available in its entirety on Presto this month, with specific launch dates to be confirmed.

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