Screen producers face ‘make or break’
Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner today warned there is a risk small independent production businesses will suffer from a continuing shift to vertically integrated platforms that produce content in-house.
Appearing before the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts in Sydney, Deaner described the screen industry as being under pressure from the fragmenting of audiences and advertising revenue, with new market entrants taking eyeballs and Google and Facebook taking ad revenue.
“How the value chain, and the government, responds to this pressure will be telling – it’s make or break for the small businesses in the independent production sector,” he told the committee, which is holding a House of Representatives inquiry into factors contributing to the growth and sustainability of Australia’s film and TV industry.
Deaner raised the prospect of an oligopoly of content providers which he said would result in a lack of diversity including regional content.
He asked the inquiry to make a strong commitment to small production businesses so they can continue to supply the market with a diverse slate of quality Australian programming.
He put forward a four-point plan:
- A trade-focused agenda for the Australian government, including more and better co-production agreements.
- Harmonising the producer offset at 40 per cent and modernising their application.
- Evolving and expanding the regulatory environment to include new market entrants such as Netflix and telcos.
- Provide certainty in government funding for screen agencies, public broadcasters, immigration process and property rights.
Deaner cited the recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey on the industry which revealed the hours of Australian drama and documentary have dropped 20 per cent in the past four years, with New Zealand content increasingly being substituted in its place.
Production business income rose by 5 per cent over those four years, below inflation, while production income dropped by 6 per cent.
Deaner was broadly supportive of Screen Australia but criticised the agency for a lack of consultation last year when it changed the funding guidelines to exclude foreign directors and writers.
That followed objections by the Australian Directors Guild to the hiring of Canadian Larysa Kondracki to co-direct FremantleMedia Australia’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Subsequently Australian director Amanda Brotchie was added to the project.
Asked about the relatively small number of international co-productions, Deaner advocated concerted, multi-year efforts by governments and screen agencies to build the capacity for networking and collaboration.
“You are seeing other territories that are being much more aggressive than us in getting into Asia, India and other markets,” he said. “It is disappointing to me that we have lost that opportunity of getting the benefits of where we are located.”
Deaner restated the case for a local content quota to be imposed on Netflix and other streaming services, contending it would not mean a huge impost on these players.
“We are looking for a level of certainty around what is being invested in this market because that gives small businesses the confidence to be able to plan and invest in scripts and talent and in having working relationships with the brilliant creative people we have in this country and not see it all lost to other territories,” he said.