Government TV Proposal Falls Short

7 February, 2022

The Australian Writers’ Guild is disappointed by the minor reforms proposed in the Streaming Services Reporting and Investment Scheme put forward by Minister Fletcher today.

Under the proposed scheme, which is the outcome of the Government’s work to change the free-to-air TV market and implement platform-neutral regulation, large streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney will be required to ‘report annually on their expenditure and provision of Australian content’. Should those services fail to invest 5 per cent of their gross locally-sourced revenue in producing Australian content, only then will the Minister impose a formal investment requirement.
 
After a year of consultation with our industry, this proposal falls short. The Australian screen industry has waited years for firm Government action on the issue of streamer regulation and the rate of obligation announced today falls far below the Australian content investment requirement that the sector has been united in calling for. The proposal is insufficient to lay the foundation for the robust, sustainable and internationally-competitive screen industry that the Government claims to support.
 
AWG has long argued that qualifying streaming platforms should invest 20 per cent of their Australian-sourced revenue in commissioning new Australian content. A 20 per cent rate is needed to balance the loss of production that has been reported since Minister Fletcher relaxed drama, documentary and children’s sub-quotas in 2020 for the commercial networks (Seven, Nine and Ten). Data from Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority shows that the commercial broadcasters halved their investment in local drama from $107m in 2018/19 to $54m in 2020/21, following these changes. This means fewer Australian stories on Australian screens.
 
The news of this inadequate regulatory response is compounded by yesterday’s announcement from UK’s Channel 5 that it has dropped Neighbours after a 37-year history of employing many thousands of Australians. The UK network claimed that audiences are moving towards streaming platforms and high-budget drama, and that, ‘Our current focus is on increasing our investment in original UK drama, which has strong appeal for our UK viewers.’
 
AWG Executive Director Claire Pullen states, ‘The Australian Government should provide a framework to ensure the protection of Australian drama for Australian viewers and the generation of Australian jobs.’  
 
AWG President Shane Brennan last year said in a roundtable discussion with Minister Fletcher, ‘We have an opportunity to carve a new industry here, or we can destroy this one with a thousand cuts.’

AWG will work with members to formulate its submission to the Streaming Services Reporting and Investment Scheme Discussion Paper, due on 24 April 2022. We will fight for the following:

  • Eligible streaming video-on-demand services and advertising video-on-demand services should have to invest 20 per cent of their Australian-sourced revenue in commissioning new Australian scripted content. This will deliver approximately $366 million in Australian content investment annually and drive an additional 10,000 industry jobs. If the Government is committed to promoting the growth and sustainability of the local industry, it must impose a rate of obligation closer to the French and Canadian models.
  • Eligibility requirements should be set at 500,000 subscribers or registered users and AU$50 million per annum in Australian revenue. A transparent minimum threshold should govern the eligibility of service providers. Eligibility should not be determined at the Minister’s discretion alone.
  • Eligible service providers should be subject to sub-quotas for drama, children’s television and documentary. In October 2020, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts recommended in a report titled Sculpting a National Cultural Plan that streaming services should be required to spend 20 per cent of locally sourced revenue on Australian content and that 20 per cent of that 20 per cent quota should be allocated to local children’s content and drama. 
  • The ideal quota system is a combination of expenditure and hoursWe support a sub-quota of minimum hours to disallow service providers from discharging their obligations by investing huge amounts of money in single, high-budget productions (calculated to entice new subscribers to the service, not necessarily to retain them).
  • Drama expenditure requirements for subscription television broadcasters should not be recalibrated. The Government proposed changes to subscription television investment in local content in 2021, but the Senate Committee considering the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No.1) Bill 2021 recommended the Foxtel cuts be withdrawn and called for the Government to expedite its review of streaming service regulation.

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