Guilds call on government to protect Oz stories

27 April, 2015 by Don Groves

Australian guilds are worried about the threat to Australian drama on free-to-air television as audiences continue to migrate to on-demand services.

The Australian Directors Guild is calling for the 10% quota on Foxtel’s drama channels to be applied to VOD and SVOD platforms.


That would entail changes to the copyright act, which the government is proposing to amend to facilitate the blocking of pirated web sites and to require ISPs to send up to three warning notices to customers suspected of repeatedly downloading content illegally.

ADG CEO Kingston Anderson tells IF, “The question is, ‘How is Australian content going to survive in this new world?’ There is no clear road map yet but changing the copyright act will be the key. We need to work with government to come up with new policies.”

Anderson said the issue of how to protect Australian storytelling is being discussed by all the major guilds including Screen Producers Australia, the Australian Writers Guild, the MEAA and the ADG.

There is widespread concern that the local content quotas for the commercial free-to-air broadcasters will, over time, become ineffective as viewers switch to online channels. “The quotas won’t mean anything if we’re all watching VOD or SVOD services,” Anderson said.

The AWG wants to work with the other guilds and organisations to mount a joint national campaign to protect Australian stories amid the rising popularity of streaming services Netflix, Stan and Presto.

In its newsletter to members, the AWG recognises it would be difficult to enforce content quotas on the SVOD platforms similar to those that apply to the commercial FTA broadcasters.

But the Guild believes there are other ways in which local investment from such companies can be secured, as evidenced by the federal government’s push to levy GST on international online purchases.

The Guild says it wants to bring industry stakeholders together to demonstrate to government the “urgent need to address the issue of local investment from online providers, even though this could take a lot of time and effort.”

AWG president Jan Sardi said, “As yet, the new digital streaming companies have made no commitment to invest in the production of local content. Once again, the AWG is actively lobbying to ensure this investment occurs.”

That ignores Netflix’s acquisitions of Bottersnikes and Gumbles, a CGI animated children’s comedy series from Cheeky Little Media’s David Webster and Patrick Edgerton and Mighty Nice’s Darren Price; Jonathan M Shiff Productions' Mako Mermaids; and both series of SBS documentary Unplanned America, produced by No Roles for Sam.

At launch, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos flagged the streaming giant's intention to invest  in Australian stories. Last week Screen Australia COO Fiona Cameron told IF Netflix reps had contacted her to express interest in Blue Sky, the joint FremantleMedia Australia/SA initiative designed to develop four high-end drama concepts for international broadcasters and VOD platforms.

Also overlooked, Stan signed development deals with Essential Media and Entertainment for political drama Enemies of the State and with Screentime and Greg Mclean’s Emu Creek Pictures for a TV series spin-off of Wolf Creek.

In addition, Stan is soon expected to announce further investment in local content and Presto has flagged plans to commission original Australian drama.

Acknowledging that activity, Sardi tells IF, "We applaud these new companies now investing in development with the intention of producing high quality, Australian drama and we look forward to those intentions being realised and to cultural objectives being front of mind for the whole of the industry.

"The responsibility for safeguarding Australian stories on Australian screens both now and for generations to come rests with the Australian Government and the AWG is committed to working with all parties towards that goal."

MEAA’s Equity director Zoe Angus said, “Local content requirements as a condition of accessing our broadcast spectrum have guaranteed Australian stories being told and Australian performers and crew being employed for decades. As content delivery modes change with new technologies, we must ensure that the telling of local stories, and the employment of local performers and crew do not suffer."

Sardi concludes in the newsletter, “I would urge everyone to write to their local federal member and remind him or her that this is a vital issue which relates to the very survival of the Australian film and TV industry.”