Australia’s much maligned content quota regulations are being rolled back, while streaming services like Netflix will have to report local content acquisitions, as the government looks for new ways to inject life into the local film and television industry.
In an announcement this morning, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher revealed the government would be putting $53 million towards the development and production of local film and television as part of the upcoming 2020-21 Federal Budget.
Of this, Screen Australia will receive $30 million over two years to support the production of Australian drama, documentary and children’s film and television content, while the Australian Children’s Television Foundation will get $20 million over two years to development new children’s content.
Screen Australia will also receive $3 million over three years to establish a competitive grants program for Australian screenwriting and script development.
But the biggest change will come in regards to content quotas for FTA TV networks, which will no longer be required to play at least 260 hours of children’s programs and 130 hours of pre-school programs a year.
After temporarily pausing the sub-quotas as an emergency measure during COVID-19, the content requirements will return from 1 January 2021.
However, under the changes, the current ’55 per cent rule’ will be altered to give broadcasters more flexibility.
As it stands, 55 per cent of content on Australian television aired between 6am and midnight is required to be a mixture of Australian drama, children’s content and documentaries.
From next year, broadcasters will have more freedom to decide what this content looks like.
A new points scheme will also be introduced to underpin the quotas, which will incentivise the development of big budget productions.
The announcements follow consultations with local broadcasters, many of which have been campaigning to relax content quotas regulations for years.
“The views of stakeholders and interested parties were very clear – we need to continue our support for the production of Australian content, but we also need to remove unsustainable obligations on industry and tailor our interventions to match the new and diverse ways Australian content is being produced and consumed,” Fletcher said.
“The measures announced today are designed to do just that. They begin to rebalance our regulatory framework and provide Australians with the opportunity to access Australian content across a range of media, regardless of whether they want to watch free-to-air television, subscription television or streaming services.”
Fletcher added that these measures are a step towards creating a “platform-neutral regulatory framework”, in response to the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.
Many have suggested that to create such a framework, streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon and Stan should be subject to the same content requirements as television broadcasters.
Fletcher said the government is still exploring whether or not it should introduce content spend obligations for these services.
In the meantime, these services will be asked to report to the Australian Communications and Media Authority on Australian content acquisition from the 2021 calendar year.
Pointing recent Australian titles such as Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas, Legend of Monkey S2, Izzy Bee’s Koala World, Romance on the Menu, and Urzila Carlson: Overqualified Loser, a Netflix spokesperson told B&T the streaming platform welcomed the opportunity to work with ACMA.
“We welcome the opportunity to formalise this commitment, and provide information about our ongoing investment commitment to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.”
The local television industry has been quick to welcome this morning’s changes.
ViacomCBS Australia & New Zealand Chief Content Officer & EVP Beverley McGarvey said: “Today’s announcements are a significant step forward for broadcasters, content providers, producers and, most importantly, Australian audiences in ensuring a sustainable and enduring local production industry.
“The reforms are a win for audiences, a win for networks and a win for the local production sector.
“They promise fairness and flexibility, allowing us to continue to invest in the programs our audiences love while giving them the choice of the time and the place that they choose to watch them.”
Meanwhile Seven West Media boss James Warburton also welcomed the reforms.
“We remain strongly committed to Australian content and welcome the changes to TV content quotas, which will provide greater flexibility to for us to invest more in those programs that audiences want, and to adjust to changing audience preferences,” he said.
“This is a big step in the right direction and also recognise the importance and value of series like Home and Away, the number one Australian drama which has been on air and produced locally for 33 years strong. “We look forward to working with the Government on the implementation.”
Nine CEO Hugh Marks said: “Nine welcomes this important step in the vital reform needed for our local production sector. It will not only provide a much needed boost to local content production but enable us to better compete in the global content industry. We will work with the Government to finalise some of the details, but overall this is an important and much needed overdue step in the reform process and we appreciate the time and consideration taken by the Minister to get us to this point.”
Foxtel Group CEO Patrick Delany said: “The package of measures announced by the Federal Government to support local production is a good outcome for Australia, which will see more home-grown stories on our screens.
“Foxtel looks forward to the opportunity to work closely with Screen Australia to kick-start new productions and employment in the creative sector, which have been severely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. We also look forward to featuring the results of work between our channel partners and the Children’s Television Foundation on Foxtel.
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