After several years of screen industry inquiries which went nowhere, the options paper being prepared by Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority should set out clear parameters for a regulatory model that safeguards Australian content.
So hopes Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner, who tells IF: “There is a sense of urgency about moving the policy conversation forward and there is a strong case to be made around the Cabinet table for investing in clean, green jobs in the creative industry.
“We have to keep pace with what has been a doubling down of support from governments in countries such as the UK, Canada and New Zealand that we partner with and compete with for talent and ideas.”
The Federal Government commissioned the options paper – which is expected to be issued by or before April – as part of a review of local content rules designed to lead to a “platform-neutral” regulatory framework
SPA and other industry bodies have long advocated a regulatory model which imposes local content spending obligations on the streaming platforms and ensures the Seven, Nine and 10 Networks continue to deliver Australian drama, children’s content and documentaries and that the national broadcasters are appropriately funded to be brought into this framework.
“We’ve always said that we are open to seeing an evolution of the regulations to be custom-fit for where and how audiences are engaging and a more flexible approach to some of the specific guidelines that exist for children’s content. There should never be an expectation of the removal of certain genres,” he says.
While there is a way to go, SPA has been having productive discussions with the commercial broadcasters, working towards a regulatory and support model, particularly for children’s content, and creating a system that is better fit for the industry and audiences.
In the meantime he welcomes the continuing success of and opportunities for Australian programming across all genres on each broadcaster’s schedules, including reality and entertainment shows.
Given the funding constraints on broadcasters and agencies, the SPA CEO believes producers will rely increasingly in foreign investment, particularly for TV drama and children’s content. That has long been the case for feature films where he expects streaming services will play a greater role in co-financing.
As Fremantle CEO Chris Oliver-Taylor and writer/producer Vicki Madden have noted, producers have faced creative challenges in satisfying the needs of both local international broadcasters.
“I’ve had experiences where I’ve had to address some colloquiums and subject matter because of international money being the loudest voice at the table and I think this is a shame and is wrong,” Madden, the creator of Stan’s The Gloaming, told IF.
Deaner says: “I would hate to think all our content will start to become global or local-for-global focussed. We have to preserve the sense of Australian-ness.”
One thing he’d like to see is a more coordinated approach to the sector’s international relationships and opportunities. “The presentation and development of our industry internationally is not informed by a clear or united agenda or strategy,” he says.
“At a critical time when an expansion of opportunities internationally for the Australian industry is available to us, a lack of focus, energy and coordination is damaging to our reputation and the opportunities our businesses and talent can access.”
In particular he’d like to see programs developed that assist small and medium-sized production companies to secure international partners and finance, not just the larger, well-capitalised outfits, reasoning, “If that doesn’t happen, we risk losing a lot of diversity in the sector, geographically and business-wise.”
While he welcomes the growing acquisition and commissioning of Australian films and TV shows by Netflix and other international platforms, he sees the need for fairer terms of trade which sit outside Screen Australia’s guidelines.
“It’s an ongoing battle to ensure there is a focus on fair licence terms and fair payment for all the ancillaries, and that has to continue,” he says. “This is a global issue, not just in Australia, and it flows into all parts of the industry in payments available to writers, directors and actors. The pressure will intensify, especially on micro-businesses.
“There is no way anyone is going to get the best out of this sector in investment, export or creative returns, unless this is addressed.”
He suggests two ways to tackle this issue: Expansion of the current Screen Australia terms of trade to capture all productions that receive government support including the Offset; or ACMA or ACCC oversight through terms of trade or a code of conduct with the free-to-air broadcasters and SVoD platforms.
And he hopes to see Disney+ start to commission Australia shows and Amazon Prime step up its involvement after ordering Back to the Rafters, a reboot of Packed to the Rafters from Seven Studios, the Rebel Wilson-hosted stand-up comedy series LOL: Last One Laughing from Endemol Shine Australia and 10 stand-up specials from Guesswork Television.