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Commercial TV frustrated by Government’s $400m offset package

The Prime Minister’s $400m location offset package has been happily received by the screen industry, but in commercial TV the response has been less positive.

Free TV, the body representing the free to air broadcast industry, said that while investment in the sector is welcome, the money doesn’t erase other issues.

Fair: The Australian production industry needs more support if it’s going to be healthy

“Investment which supports our local production sector, cast and crews is always welcome but we are concerned that this package comes in isolation of the ongoing enquiries into local content, quotas and support for the domestic industry,” said Free TV CEO Bridget Fair.

“These international productions come here for many reasons, financial support being one part. But the important element of using our talented local cast and crew will be missed if we don’t have a strong, dynamic local industry where these people work day in and day out, honing their skills and ensuring they are match fit to step up to the international stage on bigger bolder productions.”

The Government’s incentive, announced last week, will spread $400m of offset across seven years, with the hope to encourage some major players to Australian shores, including Disney. As Australia is further forward in its handling of COVID-19 than the US or UK, it will provide an easy and safe location for filming.

The Australia New Zealand Screen Association (ANZSA) welcomed the announcement, adding that it had already encouraged Marvel and Apple TV+ to film here. The $400m is expected to bring in up to $3bn in production spend.

“Free TV broadcasters are the source of more Australian production than anyone else in this country. We spend $1.6 billion on Australian production every year and deliver 25000 hours of Australian content into every local market. We are the engine room of the local production sector and yet remain saddled with an outdated framework that hasn’t been updated in almost 20 years,” said Fair.

“We are in the middle of a major review of content quotas and production incentives, including the location offset, so it’s difficult to understand why the Government has made a one-off decision now about a single element of the mix right in the middle of this process. Free TV broadcasters and the broader production industry urgently need a timetable for the decisions from Government, so we have some certainty on when the much-needed reforms can be implemented.”

Seven CEO James Warburton said the industry was ‘frustrated and disappointed’ by the scheme.

“While we support increasing the location offset for foreign productions it is frustrating and disappointing to see this seemingly given higher priority than fixing the broken regulatory regime for Australian content,” he said.

“Local broadcasters continue to bear the burden of antiquated regulatory obligations that render us unable to fairly compete with foreign online competitors. This was recognised by the ACCC in its Digital Platforms Inquiry and the Government has committed to addressing it. What is needed is for the Government to act with the same urgency in implementing reforms to our Australian content obligations and production incentives for local Australian productions.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the incentive would create thousands of extra jobs across the country and would help back the screen sector’s recovery from the impacts of COVID-19.

“This investment is key to our JobMaker plan to create jobs, boost local business activity, and provide training and skills,” he said.

“Behind these projects are thousands of workers that build and light the stages, that feed, house and cater for the huge cast and crew and that bring the productions to life. This is backing thousands of Australians who make their living working in front of the camera and behind the scenes in the creative economy.”

The Government has been criticised for ignoring the plight of contract or freelance workers, which includes a large portion of screen and production workers, in its COVID-19 response.

It wasn’t all the FTA networks who questioned the incentive, however. With parent company ViacomCBS invested in film studio Paramount Pictures, the business welcomed the announcement.

“ViacomCBS welcomes the announcement by the Prime Minister of a four-year extension to the Location Incentive Program,” said a ViacomCBS spokesperson.

“Paramount has already been able to commission two big projects, Shantaram and Monster Problems, in Australia thanks to the Location Incentive Program. These projects are bringing almost $130m of investment into the Australian economy and supporting hundreds of Australian jobs in the creative arts sector.

“COVID-19 has brought many additional complexities to our industry and so some certainty of the regulatory landscape will help us as we work through this challenging time.

“We know there is a broader process for critical reform of the film and tv sectors, including local content rules for free to air commercial television. We look forward to hearing more from the Government about this in the very near future.”

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