The annual Screen Producers (SPA) conference has started with a detailed analysis of the damage done to the production sector by regulatory changes introduced by the Government during the pandemic.
In addressing his members on Day 1 of the conference, SPA chief executive Matthew Deaner said:
“In terms of certainty of commissioning demand, the shape and depth of regulated quotas determine so critically the conditions for operating in our sector. There has been no greater illustration of that than the fall out to our industry as we saw the Government first suspend, then devalue, the quotas applying to commercial free-to-air television. The rules for subscription TV were also suspended. The impact was immediate, with well-developed projects cut from slates, sharp downturns in commissioning activity, and severe impacts on individual member businesses.
“Empirical data is now available that reveals the true impact of these changes – investment by commercial free-to-air television in Australian drama in 2020-21 was half the amount of the last full year of the outgoing regulatory framework. The amount of drama made for commercial free-to-air television also sharply declined as a result of deregulation, and there was a devastating impact on children’s content, where there are now no regulatory protections and pretty much no production even though in the middle of this all one of the broadcasters launched a children and YA content focused channel – obviously valuing that audience – that now uses our spectrum just to show US content. And investment from subscription television reduced to almost nothing for a whole year, with permanent cuts on the Government’s agenda.”
Screen Forever: Streaming services regulation needed
Deaner continued: “We are fully aware of the damage done, and what we must do to correct it.
“This uncertain outlook has been made worse, not better, by the slow, protracted and largely ineffective proposals to regulate safeguards for Australian content on streaming services.
“The moment before us represents a unique opportunity to push for a forward-looking, effective and meaningful framework for Australian content on increasingly pervasive streaming services. The delay in achieving this over the past few years makes the task harder but our case for fairness and consistency across platforms is strong.
“Streaming services are incredibly successful platforms that are starting to replace traditional platforms as the predominant place Australians seek entertainment.
“The history of public policy intervention in media in this country centres around the principle that platforms with a high degree of influence on Australian society should bear corresponding responsibilities to contribute back.”
Increasing content from First Nations people
The production organisation chief said SPA believes that any new regulatory framework for screen content must also directly incentivise or require the production of content from First Nations people.
“A requirement or incentive for streaming platforms to work with Indigenous-led businesses on projects with a genuine Indigenous voice is critical at a time when the preservation and maintenance of First Nations language, culture, food and way of life is extremely important to Australia’s cultural identity,” Deaner told delegates as Screen Forever on Day 1.
Screen Forever details solutions
Deaner: “The industry has put on the table a progressive and effective proposal, which we stand by, and which would deliver rich dividends in terms of certainty of investment, jobs and creative content. Not only do we address the central issue of an internationally competitive rate of obligation, but we also have a proposal before Government for negotiated terms of trade, to provide some structure and predictability to negotiations between producers and commissioners – negotiations which, at this point in time, are marked by volatility and a striking imbalance in bargaining power.
“We will continue to engage with the current Government through its consultation process but are making it abundantly clear to them that the uncertainty and risk that its proposal would create will damage the sector and let industry and audiences down.”
Politicians at Screen Forever
A number of federal politicians delivered short statements welcoming delegates to the conference. The most detailed plan for support came from a member of the Greens, Senator Sarah Hanson Young:
“The Greens are taking forward to this election a really strong platform to support Australia’s own screen industry,” said the senator.
“We want to make sure there is a quota for streaming services, to ensure they fund and support local content. And I know many of them already are – but let’s make sure we have proper rules and regulations in place to drive that going forward, so that no one is left behind. The Greens want to see a 20 per cent expenditure quota on our streaming services, with a 20 per cent sub-quota for children’s content.
“We also need to be funding the infrastructure, training and education possibilities within our screen industry. That’s why the Greens are pledging to fight for a $1 billion Australian Stories Fund. With this, we can invest in an industry – your industry – that has done it so tough of late, but is also key to pushing us out of this pandemic into a new Australia. This will make sure that we can invest in our creative industries in a way that values the work and contributions you make.”