Australia will introduce content quotas for video streaming platforms from the middle of next year, the federal government said on Monday. But its policy statement left all detail on streaming issues to further discussion.
The policy move was announced as part of “Revive,” a five-year plan that is intended to reset Australia’s wider cultural strategy, spanning arts, culture and entertainment. The biggest thrust of “Revive” is centered on First Nations voices and cultural workers.
The document argues that Australians are now more likely to watch content on streaming platforms than on traditional broadcasting, that subscription-VOD is an industry worth over A$2.4 billion (A$1.70 billion), and that streamers are currently not obliged to invest in local content or genres that the government deems important, such as educational shows and documentaries.
“These new streaming platforms are producing some high-quality Australian content. However, unlike free-to-air broadcasting services and subscription television, these services have no requirements to make Australian content available on their platforms. The ready availability of mass content produced in other countries, particularly the U.S., risks drowning out the voices of Australian storytellers,” the policy document said.
It also suggested that the success of streaming services, which grew by 50% in 2021, has had an adverse effect on public sector broadcasters Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Special Broadcasting Services. That in turn may have negatively affected the fortunes of independent producers.
“Smaller, independent film and television productions are struggling to get made and be seen as production costs are increasing and traditional revenue streams are stagnating. Some content sub-genres, especially children’s content, are at serious risk. As an example, the number of commissioned children’s titles fell from fourteen in 2019–20 to seven in 2020–21 because of the removal of content quotas on free-to-air television. Out of these, the ABC commissioned six,” the report said. It also called Australian children’s screen content “truly nation building.”
The document said that the new policy will “provide security of funding and independence for Australia’s national broadcasters, ABC and SBS, by delivering five-year funding terms, and reinstating indexation for the ABC funding.” This follows years of cutbacks under previous governments.
On the streaming front, the government will hold further consultation with industry in 2023 before shaping final policy. This could include: requirements for the streamers to invest a specified minimum proportion of their revenue in making Australian content; requirements to invest in specified genres; regulated terms of trade between streamers and suppliers; as well as obligations to carry minimum amounts of ‘discoverable’ Australian content on the platforms.
The streaming industry – which straddles international groups (such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney), a pay-TV firm (Foxtel) which has pre-emptively launched its own streaming services, and broadcaster-owned streaming services (Stan), as well as producers, traditional broadcasters and a financier/regulator (Screen Australia) – has not developed a unitary point of view.
Variety has reached out to Disney and Netflix for comment.
Local media have been quick to suggest that the quotas could create content spending obligations in Australia of A$500 million ($355 million) per year. That compares with more than A$330 million ($2345 million) of spending in 2021-22 (A$254 million on production and a further A$81 million of acquired sports and other programming) according to the report.
Lobby group Screen Producers Australia, which advocates for streamers to invest 20% of their Australian revenues into local content, welcomed the publication of the report. But it acknowledged the difficulties to come in the upcoming negotiations.
“This includes what is counted as “Australian content” and whether that definition meets the objectives of the new Australian National Cultural Policy and public expectations,” said SPA’s Matthew Deaner. “Getting this right is no simple matter. There’s a world of cultural difference between ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘The Drover’s Wife,’ both of which were supported by Australian taxpayers.”
Australian federal and state governments spend generously on film and TV investment as a matter or industrial and employment policy and have helped create an export-driven screen production sector that is significantly bigger than local demand.
The “Revive” report describes as its centerpiece the establishment of Creative Australia, a new body “which will restore and modernize the Australia Council for the Arts, […] restore funding that was previously cut and provide additional funding to expand the functions and responsibilities of the Australia Council [and] support areas where traditionally the Australia Council has been forced by under-resourcing to play a smaller role.”
First Nations support will have First Nations autonomy, artists are to be recognized as workers, and two principally underfunded and ‘commercial’ sectors of contemporary music and writing will have their own bodies within Creative Australia.
This policy includes the establishment of a new First Nations First body, Music Australia, Writers Australia and the Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces.
The government plans to introduce legislation to protect Indigenous knowledge and cultural expression, such as cracking down on fake Aboriginal art. It will see the establishment of a National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs and an Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Perth.
Introduce requirements for Australian screen content on streaming platforms to ensure continued access to local stories and content in the third quarter of 2023 and to commence no later than 1 July 2024, with the Minister for the Arts and the Minister for Communications to undertake further consultation with industry in the first half of 2023 on the
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