Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: Alison Hurbert-Burns, content chief at Colin From Accounts streamer Binge, has told Deadline “the proof is in the pudding” as the platform’s Australian pay-TV parent Foxtel unveiled its 2024 slate today.

In an exclusive interview ahead of the slate reveal, Binge Executive Director Hurbert-Burns talked up the reach of the streaming platform and Foxtel, which is Australia‘s leading pay service.

“I’m a believer in the proof being in the pudding and the good content finding its way through,” she said. “The differentiator for us is we don’t do anything unless it’s exceptional, and we have nearly 30 years of proving that ambition.”

Foxtel launched in 1995 and has been in its current form, with News Corp as majority owner, since 2018. Binge launched during the pandemic in May 2020 and has quickly established itself as a major player in original content in Australia. The CBS Studios and Easy Tiger-produced comedy Colin From Accounts is the best example, winning multiple awards and selling globally.

Alison Hurbert Burns

Nikki Short

Among the streamer’s slate is the hotly anticipated season 2 of the sitcom, created and written by stars Harriet Dyer and Patrick Brammall. Production will begin in Sydney in coming months following a delay after the writers put down their pens in unity with the WGA during the writers strike. Brammall is a WGA member and Dyer expressed concern earlier this year in an interview with Variety about how continuing might impact her future membership.

“As an Australian program it was outside of the strike, but they just felt it was the right thing to do,” said Hurbert-Burns. Spoiler alert coming: Asked what season two of the rom-com about two ill-matched lovers who unite over an injured dog, she said: “We left Colin season one with them wondering if they could get Colin [the dog] back, so there will be a journey to see how our heroes get reunited — you can definitely say that.”

Also going into production is feature film How to Make Gravy, which we told you first about moments ago, and The Last Anniversary, an adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel by Australian author Liane Moriarty. It’s produced by Made Up Stories and Blossom Films and directed by John Polson, and production will begin this year ahead of a Christmas 2024 launch.

Other announcements included a premiere date for Strife, another series from Mad Up Stories, which follows a woman navigating the publishing world in the digital era. “It’s the story of a woman in 2012 who gets spat out of the tightrope of running magazines,” said Hurbert-Burns. “She has a bit of a breakdown and goes and starts her own web publishing business.”

It’s loosely based on former Cosmopolitan Australia and Cleo Australia editor Mia Freedman’s memoir ‘Work, Strife, Balance,’ and the story partly mirrors her work in Australian publishing. Freedman, who launched the influential site Mamamia, is a consultant.

‘Scale and budgets continue to increase’

“Things you might not have thought of as Foxtel, now you have on Binge,” said Hurbert-Burns. “We’ve never had a bigger audience as we have with the Foxtel and Binge audiences combined, so we can reach a lot of people who pay for content.

“Scale and production budgets continue to increase, and I hope people can see that. Strife will be a great example. It’s really pleasing to see how our local content sits on the slate next to the best content in the world and holds that standard.

Further launches include season two of courtroom The Twelve, again starring Sam Neill who reprises his role as Brett Colby, SC alongside Frances O’Connor as Meredith Nelson-Moore, SC. The crime drama follows a controversial murder trial seen through the lens of the jurors – 12 ordinary Australians who face their own realities and struggles. “It’s the biggest production ever made in Western Australia,” said Hurbert-Burns.

High Country will be an eight-part mystery thriller from Sony-owned Curio starring Leah Purcell AM, Aaron Pedersen, Sara Wiseman and Ian McElhinney; and four-part miniseries Mix Tape, Binge’s first international co-production adapted from Jane Sanderson’s novel. Aussie indie Aquarius Films and Ireland’s Subotica are attached. We hear High Country has been attracting much international attention and deals are set to be unveiled.

L-R: Patrick Brammall as Gordon and Harriet Dyer as Ashley in ‘Colin From Accounts’

Paramount+

On the unscripted front, the slate is led by The Real Housewives of Sydney, which marks the first time the NBCUniversal reality format has been ordered in six years. It will sit alongside the local versions of FBoy Island, Gogglebox and Bake Off, along with upcoming doc-series Billion Dollar Playground and returner Selling Houses Australia.

Foxtel, majority-owned by the Murdoch’s News Corp, is Australia’s established pay-TV market leader with around 4.7 million customers and acquires various U.S. and international shows and films from around 50 suppliers that sit alongside its sports, movies and lifestyle content. Upcoming acquisitions include True Detective: Night Country, Apples Never Fall, Feud: Capote Vs the Swans and Belgravia: The Next Chapter.

Hurbert-Burns, who oversees content acquisitions as well as her original content role, explained how the ecosystem currently works for the company. “Foxtel Group as the major pay-TV provider in Australia has always made premium content,” she said. “We make content to define our slate, not fill it. We’re so privileged to get so many channels from so many providers, but also our output arrangements and the content acquisitions we buy in have to be the best of the best. That means when you’re commissioning you have to know the stuff you’re making has to sit amongst that environment.”

“We’re very privileged to have such a broad source of supply and to then be able to find what is effectively the cherry on top that defines the slate beyond a big, hot tentpole from America helps us elevate our offer.”

Hurbert-Burns said Australia “punches above its weight” in terms of media consumption, and added there was still “headroom” to add subscribers to Binge. “We’re still seeing the average household adding more services – we’re a little behind the U.S. and UK in that regard – and then as people consolidate it’s about being a must-have, and that’s what we’re seeing with Binge. The base is loyal and not churning.”

Binge has around 1.5 million subscribers, almost all of whom are paying customers. This is still well behind market leader Netflix but the figure represents 22% year-on-year growth. Binge switched its lowest-cost tier to an ad-funded free service in April.

“It a very different communication approach that required a very strategic rollout but it meant instant reach,” said Hurbert-Burns. “We were sold out with 21 advertisers in the first three months. There was a sense we came out strong.

“It’s been really interesting to evolve the brand. Five years ago, [Foxtel CEO] Patrick Delaney announced the strategy at Foxtel, which was maintain Foxtel and grow through streaming,” added Hurbert-Burns, who was also part of the team at Nine Network that launched Binge streaming rival Stan. “We’re now at the end of that cycle. Binge and [sports streamer] Kayo are substantial enough to have been broken out [in financial results] so we can take them to the next level.”

Tribute to Brian Walsh

Hurbert-Burns also took the opportunity to pay tribute to the much-loved and widely-influential Foxtel exec Brian Walsh, who tragically passed away earlier this year aged 68.

“He had such an impact on people. We had a connection, knowing we were part of a team and that we had a vision for Binge originals. He was always big on people taking and recharging rest but he text me earlier this year when I was on holiday, saying he had to talk to me about the slate. I rang him one day from by the pool and we literally talked for hours about all the things we were going to do this year.

“He was in full flight and to lose him a couple of months later [was tragic]. In his personal life he had a business that was doing a lot of musical stuff and he had a dream home. He was a very special man. We pick up the post from him and onwards we go.”

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