Options paper responses could herald significant and lasting media reforms

10 July, 2020 by Don Groves

(L-R) Bridget Fair, Jenny Buckland, Nick Murray and Matt Deaner.

The Federal Government is evaluating more than than 300 submissions to the options paper review, which is designed to lead to a platform-neutral regulatory framework.

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If Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and his Cabinet colleagues are persuaded by the majority of the views expressed in the responses which IF has reported, a number of key reforms appear likely to be adopted.

“We’re pleased there’s broad support from the screen sector for constructive and positive change and urge the government to stick to its planned time frame to initiate reform in 2020,” Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner tells IF.

There is a high level of support for the following measures, apart from dissenting voices from those with vested interests, primarily the SVOD services, Foxtel and commercial free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters.

– Platform-agnostic expenditure requirement for content providers, based on revenues, spanning commercial FTAs, subscription TV, SVOD, AVOD/BVOD and IPTV.

– Minimum requirements for spending on scripted drama, comedy, children’s and documentary.

– Doubling the TV Producer Offset to 40 per cent (although CJZ opposes the proposal by SPA and Fremantle to make entertainment programs like The Voice and Big Brother eligible for a 30 per cent Offset)

– Increasing the non-competitive Location Offset to 30 per cent so Australia can take advantage of its relatively safe filming environment, studios, cast and crew.

– Providing more funding for the ABC and SBS, which is advocated by SPA and 17 industry guilds and groups including Women in Film and Television Australia and Screenworks.

– Scrapping the C and P quotas for commercial FTAs, replaced by minimum requirements for content aimed at children and youths aged up to 16.

A spokesman for Fletcher tells IF: “The Options Paper will guide the government’s work to determine the future extent of Australian content obligations on free-to-air television broadcasters and whether there should be Australian content obligations on subscription video-on-demand services.

“The government has been consulting extensively with the industry on the proposals in the Options Paper. Over coming months the government will be working to arrive at decisions on the way forward on these issues.”

As IF reported, Free TV Australia wants to scrap the sub-quotas, replaced with a simplified points system which would give its members greater flexibility in how they meet their regulated obligations.

Netflix proposed a “flexible, reasonably set voluntary investment model that meets cultural policy goals and incentivises wider investment” while Foxtel wants to abolish the requirement to invest at least 10 per cent of its total program expenditure on new Australian drama.

‘Big Brother’ (Photo credit: Nigel Wright).

Deaner comments: “If one thing’s apparent, it’s that those who are regulated will seek deregulation, and those who are not regulated will actively resist regulation.

“That’s come to the surface again in some submissions, but we’re interested in getting on with the work of progressing the regulatory framework and safeguarding the economic and cultural value of screen content that the government itself recognised in the options paper.”

Referring to the Australian Directors’ Guild call to rename the Producer Offset as the Creative Offset, which would mean the content creator retains the IP, Deaner adds: “We note there’s some suggestion of changing the nature of the Producer Offset. We think the case is pretty strong for the Offset to continue to provide a supporting structure to those who carry the risks and responsibilities of delivering the completed project.”

Free TV Australia CEO Bridget Fair says: “The key outcome for free TV broadcasters in this process is to reduce the unreasonable levels of regulation on our sector and empower us to deliver more of the programs that audiences demand.

“The ongoing sustainability of the production sector is heavily dependent on a sustainable commercial television industry.”

Not unreasonably, SBS seeks additional funding so it can commission more Australian drama after only having enough resources for eight 4 x 1 hour miniseries in the last five years. The broadcaster is keen to support series of six or eight episodes which it believes would have broader international appeal and secure double the investment from overseas sources, which is typically 20 per cent of the budget.

SBS also seeks more funding for NITV, specifically to deliver additional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children’s content to all Australians, with that promise that two out of three key creatives from the writer, director, producer team would be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.



‘MaveriX’ indicative art.

The Australian Children’s Television Foundation’s submission called for more government funding so it can support more productions like Brindle Films’ MaveriX and for the ABC to get an extra $40 million a year for children’s programming and $20 million for SBS for children’s and youth content.

ACTF CEO Jenny Buckland tells IF: “The submissions are all showing consensus around the need to reform both the regulatory and funding frameworks, and the importance of continuing to support Australian content on all platforms and for all audiences.

“There are some big divergences in approach, though, given content platforms of all types want either complete de-regulation or voluntary codes; and the production sector wants expenditure or hours based obligations.”

“There’s a big job now to pull everything together into a proposed new framework. Government will still have to make some choices and spell out its own priorities and what it’s prepared to spend in order to explain the choices it makes.”

In its submission, Ausfilm argues a 30 per cent Location Offset is the only way to drive a continuous pipeline of international production across Australia, creating confidence, security and certainty to Australian workers and Australian screen businesses.

The Federal Government’s $140 million top-up announced in 2018 has attracted 10 projects worth $950 million. In a webinar yesterday with Deaner, Ausfilm CEO Kate Marks said a 30 per cent Offset is essential to attract offshore projects aiming to start shooting in 2021 and 2022.

CJZ’s SBS series ‘Life Drawing Live.’

Today CJZ’s Nick Murray repeated his case for the Offsets to be fully taxable and his criticism of the alleged misuse of the PDV Offsets by entertainment franchises such as MasterChef Australia, Australia’s Got Talent, The Voice, Married At First Sight and Big Brother.

“Government must be careful not to be hoodwinked by networks and the big offshore multinationals into shoveling cash into foreign formats, thus condemning local creativity to the scrap heap. The policy settings must support local IP creation and export potential,” he says.

“Selling shows made by Shine and Fremantle overseas doesn’t bring the profits back to Australia. When CJZ sells something offshore, all the revenue ends up here. That’s what supports our overheads and core activities like IP creation and development.

“The PDV rort needs to be addressed. High budget remakes of foreign formats get huge multi-million dollar payments for each series of those shows because their post production budget is high.

“This results in untaxed windfall profits which can be spirited offshore. At the same time, shorter run and cheaper locally-developed shows don’t even qualify, which is unintentional discrimination against local production companies.”

Along with SPA, Murray calls for a UK-style terms of trade system. In Murray’s view that would stop the Australian networks from unfairly profiting from an increase in the Offset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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