Local content to be shunted to digital channels: new laws

Local content to be shunted to digital channels: new laws
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As two of Labor’s media reform Bills passed into law last night, a new and very real risk to local Australian TV production was born according to the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA).

Matthew Deaner, executive director of SPAA, told B&T that the newly created laws paved the way for free to air networks to shift locally made children’s dramas and documentaries onto their second or even third digital channels.

Labor has now scrapped four other planned bills because of a lack of Parliamentary support for the proposals.

In its submission to Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications: Inquiry into the Media Reform Bills Package, SPAA said: “At this breakneck speed we run a very real risk of undermining the years of careful thought that have gone into a suite of Convergence Review recommendations – and the Productivity Commission’s inquiry before it.”

While the convergence review had five long-term recommendations and six interim recommendations, of these, none of the long-term recommendations have been adopted while four interim recommendations have been proposed – yet three (55 per cent on primary channel, 80 per cent advertising and 10 per cent subscription expenditure) maintain the status quo.

“The law now has one-sided flexibility that will impede growth and damage the industry The proposed recommendations to enable greater flexibility for networks to acquit their quota requirements do nothing to support growth and are likely to damage the industry as a whole,” said Deaner.

Deaner argued that the newly created laws encourage movement of Australian content off a network’s higher-rating primary channel in favour of the multichannels.

Without the contrast of increasing new Australian content requirements this flexibility is problematic. Lower audiences will lead to lower licence fees and this is a slippery slope that is setting Australian content up to fail.

“I just hope we don’t look back at this time now and think that 2012-13 was some sort of renaissance period for Australian screen productions. Already docos and kidsprograms are on the decline,” he said.

While adult drama is currently in vogue and rating sufficiently to maintain its place on free to aur TV, it still costs more than ten times as much when compared to buying imported guaranteed ratings winners.

“For example, one of our children’s production members has been negotiating with one of the commercial free-to-air networks. They are trying to achieve a licence fee high enough to trigger the remaining finance, but this is unlikely following a change of policy at the network.

“Our member has been informed that if these amendments are made they will move their children’s content to multi-channels. This has resulted in a 50 per cent fall in the licence fee being offered,” SPAA included in its submission to the senate inquiry.

Deaner tolod B&T that as the laws passed the Senate last night the industry may have been handed alife line in that an attachment was added to the Bill specifying that an investigation into the impacts of the new laws would have to be conducted within 12 months.

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