by Don Groves
Foxtel has just commissioned a fifth season of Wentworth, its longest-running local drama and one of Australian TV’s most successful exports with sales to 141 territories including Netflix in the US.
The Fremantle Media Australia production is a significant economic contributor, employing 120 cast and crew plus guest cast and up to 30 extras on any given day.
The Dutch adaptation, Celblok H, recently completed its third season on SBS6 and a Flemish version is in production in Belgium, commissioned by commercial broadcaster Vier, co-produced by FremantleMedia Belgium and Marmalade Productions.
Yet the show is also one of the most heavily pirated worldwide, featuring regularly among The Pirate Bay’s most downloaded TV programs. Wentworth is one of three Australian shows Foxtel cited, along with A Place to Call Home and Open Slather, that were available on The Pirate Bay, torrentz.eu, isohunt.so and torrenthound.com when it asked the Federal Court to order Internet service providers to take down those sites.
A coalition of studios led by Roadshow and Foxtel were the first to take action under website blocking legislation which passed federal parliament last year. “This legislation will address serious issues that affect the whole content creation industry,” a Foxtel spokesman says.
"Piracy threatens an entire ecosystem across TV production that includes writers, directors, editors, set designers and many more. Failing to take action undermines these professions and denies creators and distributors a fair return on their investment".
“We feel the legislation will be effective, as has been demonstrated in other geographies, in protecting Australia’s TV and film industry.”
Foxtel monitored the pirating of five episodes of Wentworth in May and estimated there were more than 65,000 illegal downloads in Australia and more than 141,000 internationally- just the tip of the iceberg.
Pirating of the series in the UK was one factor which prompted the UK’s Channel 5 to shift the show to its digital station 5Star last week, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.
A spokesman for Channel 5 told Content Café, “5Star plays host to some of the biggest dramas and soaps in the UK which makes it an ideal home for Wentworth. We’re confident the series will retain its hugely loyal UK following as well as attract new audiences to 5Star.”
FremantleMedia Australia’s director of drama Jo Porter, who is also exec producer of Wentworth, says, “We do know one episode of series four was moved to make way for a live Brexit debate at the height of its news value, and during an extended period of time when news was the focus across the UK. We know that there is a large and loyal fan base in the UK.
“We see this via Twitter where we regularly trend in the UK during the telecast there and also through British fans engaging on Twitter live during the first run in Australia. We’d hate to think the eagerness of our loyal audience may inadvertently erode our broadcast partner’s live audience.”
“Wentworth is performing incredibly well internationally, we’re so proud to see this uniquely Australian story be so warmly embraced by audiences around the world.”
Judging by the show’s ratings on Foxtel’s SoHo, Wentworth fans are extremely loyal. The premiere of season four attracted 33% more viewers than the premiere of season three last year. Production of series five under series producer Pino Amenta starts in Melbourne next month.