Convergence Review strongly supports Australian content
The final report of the Convergence Review, released this afternoon, strongly supports the social and cultural value of Australian content and makes it very clear that, without intervention, it will drop to unacceptable levels.
As flagged in the interim report, it is proposed that the current rules applying to free-to-air and subscription television be repealed but that a new technology-neutral regime be uniformly applied to all players, including the networks’ digital multichannels, internet-delivered channels with television-like content and on-demand services.
To be one of the “content service enterprises” subject to the new regime, a service must be screening or offering professional television-like drama, documentary and/or children’s programs, and meet not-yet-determined minimum revenue and audience thresholds. This means that platforms that predominantly run user-generated material and social media sites escape the recommendations.
If a service falls into this category it will be required to invest a percentage of its revenue into Australian drama, documentary and children’s programs, or into a “converged content production fund” with a very broad remit.
As well as getting contributions from these enterprises, the fund will receive spectrum licence fees from broadcasting services and direct funding from the taxpayer. Finance from the fund will go to traditional and innovative programming, regionally-focussed Australian content, games and other applications, as well as content that supports Australian contemporary music.
The 177-page report contains many recommendations on media ownership and control, content standards, and spectrum allocation and management. It provides a picture of current legislative frameworks, the effect of leaving the media and telecommunications landscape as it is, and a proposed new world order – and a three-stage approach to its implementation.
Having a transitional period is recommended on the Australian content front, during which subquotas on the main commercial free-to-air are increased by 50 per cent — to make up for how little local content is on the multichannels – and the 10 percent minimum expenditure requirement on eligible drama subscription channels is extended to children’s and documentary programming.
The review committee states that there is a continuing case for government support for Australian production – again, it is drama, documentary and children’s programming that needs intervention – and it has stuck by its guns in recommending that the value of the producer offset should go up from 20 to 40 per cent for “premium” television content, putting it on the same footing as features. It also recommends that an offset be introduced for interactive entertainment.
On the business and legal conditions under which independent producers operate, the review committee of Glen Boreham (chair), Malcolm Long and Louise McElvogue, have passed the ball back to the government.
The report emphasises that it is pushing for principles-based legislation so that the future can be accommodated. It also opts for the creation of a new independent statutory regulator to replace the Australian Communications and Media Authority. This new body would include a classification board.
If the recommendations are adopted there will be a significant shake-out and both winners and losers. The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, released the report and said the government would respond “in due course”.