SPA calls for new screen policy

15 June, 2015 by Staff Writer

Screen Producers Australia is calling on government, opposition and the minor parties to develop a holistic arts and communications screen policy ahead of the next election.

SPA has set out an ambitious range of policy reforms which it says are needed to ensure the independent production sector, which generates $1.7 billion worth of production annually, continues to grow, export and innovate. The reforms for which it is seeking bipartisan support include:


Adjustment to tax incentives:

Following cuts to Screen Australia, ABC and SBS in 2014, SPA says its members are concerned about the compound effects of additional cuts to Screen Australia in this year's federal budget.

SPA advocates an increase to the Producer Offset rate for television,  structured with safeguards to ensure the benefits remain with the small businesses that most need this leverage. CEO Matt Deaner says this will ensure international competitiveness and alleviate the impact of reduced screen subsidies.

The organisation also wants greater flexibility built into the Producer Offset legislation's theatrical release requirements of feature films; and for developing and retaining skills by maintaining a critical mass of production through incentives to attract footloose productions to Australia.

Adjustment to regulations:

In response to increased pressure facing commercial free-to-air television, SPA supports in principle a reduction in spectrum licence fees but  believes the cuts must assist by stimulating investment across a diverse range of Australian content on commercial TV and not simply facilitate a sports rights "arms race"  at the expense of drama, documentary and children’s programming.

SPA wants greater broadcasting transparency to enable more effective benchmarking of policy objectives and outcomes. Deaner cited the broadcasting financial results published by ACMA  as a good example of reporting obligations for the commercial sector that should be replicated for public broadcasters.

The organisation also calls for stronger oversight of commercial transactions between broadcasters and the independent production sector. It has maintained benchmark terms of trade with ABC since 2009.

“These terms align with other negotiated agreements and provide certainty to both parties," Deaner said. "This is not to fix pricing but rather streamline the commissioning process by assisting in the mapping and modernising of rights available in both broadcast and ancillary usages across a multichannel and online broadcast environment. However, ABC is an isolated example with other broadcasters resisting similar arrangements. 

“We want government to assist in establishing an industry code of conduct to strengthen the voluntary arrangements that been promoted to date by the independent production sector. Independent producers look to such arrangements to ensure that broadcasters don’t to use their disproportionate level of market power, either intentionally or otherwise, to create an unfair marketplace in the acquisition of screen content.

“The recent report from the Canadian Media Production Association,  Impacts of the 2003 Communication Act on UK Indie Producers, highlights the advantages to both the independent production sector and broadcasters since terms of trade were mandated in the UK in 2003:"

Adjustments to regulations are required to ensure the integrity of Australian content on commercial free-to-air television, he added.

Also, SPA seeks to broaden the definition of the term ‘first release’ in the Australian content standard to reflect the concept of a worldwide premiere and not just a program’s initial screening in the licence area.

It says this will avoid the "disappointing and alarming" 2014 compliance results for metropolitan commercial FTA licensees released by ACMA, which showed the Nine Network met 51% of its drama obligation with New Zealand programming.

The body continues to lobby for reforms of the temporary visas for international actors. “We are looking to the government’s review of temporary visas to deliver sensible reform that balances the needs of all parts of the screen industry and contribute to the continued growth of the sector to ensure greater employment not only for cast but also writers, directors, crew and producers," Deaner said.

“Our industry is at a crossroads. We are amongst the most entrepreneurial, innovative and productive screen industries in the world. Many of our independent production companies are already succeeding in the international marketplace and, increasingly, the world is looking to us for new ideas and innovation. However, the industry is also in a period of rapid technological change and fragmentation.

"We therefore have to ensure that Government interventions, so important in underpinning the health of our sector and delivering cultural outcomes, are keeping pace with the new world environment in which we operate to both keep Australian production businesses expanding and innovating, and to guarantee that we can continue to create and present diverse, quality local content to Australian audiences.”