One of the key findings from the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry released last week was around the ‘regulatory imbalance’ that exists in the Australian media.
“Despite digital platforms increasingly performing similar functions to media businesses, virtually no media regulation applies to digital platforms in comparison with some other media businesses,” the report states.
And this disparity is perhaps no more evident than when it comes to the minimum content quotas for Australian or local content broadcasters face.
Currently, the Australian Content Standard 2016 sets out minimum annual sub-quotas for Australian drama, documentary and children’s programs that all commercial free-to-air television broadcasters must meet.
And with the Australian media facing significant disruption from technology platforms Netflix and YouTube (owned by Google), there are growing calls for these international companies to invest more into local content.
Speaking on the ABC on Sunday, communications minister Paul Fletcher indicated there could be some change in this space.
“Today, the free-to-air networks have an obligation to show a certain amount of Australian content. They have to pay to produce or show that,” he said.
“But streaming platforms like Netflix or YouTube don’t have such obligations, even though they’re capturing a huge number of eyeballs in the Australian market, and in the case of Netflix, substantial revenue.
“And for example, there are different rules about advertising on free-to-air television, as compared to what YouTube or Netflix faces.
“And so, therefore, the call for harmonisation is something that, in principle, we’ve indicated we accept.”
Free TV Australia CEO Bridget Fair also congratulated the ACCC on its efforts in promoting a “harmonised media regulatory framework” in the report.
And while the report does call into question the effectiveness and fairness of Australia’s current media framework, whether or not content quotas be extended to these digital platforms or removed altogether is another question.
“A process would need to consider the policy reasons for the regulations that apply in the Australian media and communications markets, in order to determine whether more regulations should apply to digital platforms and online publishers or whether the regulation should be removed from TV and radio broadcasters,” says the ACCC in the final report.
While Netflix declined to comment on this story, the streaming giants has previously spoken of the value of producing Australian content regardless of quotas.
In its submission to the inquiry last year, Netflix spoke of its production of children’s programming for Australian audiences.
“Both Netflix and ABC make this quality content to match the interests of Australian consumers and their families – not because of mandatory quotas or content regulation.
A study from RMIT released late last year found Netflix’s local content level sits at 1.6 per cent (82 Australian titles out of 4,959).