Government proposes local content spend quota for global streaming services

Global video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ could be required to spend a certain amount on Australian content in the future, with the proposal one of a series of changes being flagged by the Australian Government.

In a media reform Green Paper released today (Friday 27 November), the government proposed further changes to commercial television regulations, and is seeking views on a number of proposed measures which includes a new commercial TV license system.

Netflix could be subject to Australian content quotas

The Green Paper noted initially that the current business model for Australian free-to-air television is under pressure, with Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, proposing a number of changes he says will support the future of media and production in this country.

“The media landscape has changed significantly over the past decade, with faster internet allowing digital technologies to generate significant benefits for industry and consumers. However, these technologies have also fractured business models and rendered many of our regulatory structures obsolete,” Minister Fletcher said.

One key proposal suggested would see an Australian content spend obligation introduced for video-on-demand services.

This Green Paper outlines that this proposal would apply to global streaming services, listing Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. Local platform Stan was not named, as it is already subject to Australian content obligations as a part of those which apply to the Nine Network.

Other proposals include giving broadcasters the choice to operate under a new kind of commercial television broadcasting licence, with a reduced regulatory burden provided they agree to move at a future point to using less radio frequency spectrum.

The paper then proposes using proceeds from the freed-up spectrum to invest in Australian news and screen content.

Finally, it’s proposed that the role of national broadcasters as key providers of Australian content be formalised.

Minister of Communications, Cyber-Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher

Minister Fletcher said the need to implement structural change via such proposals has been accelerated by the strain COVID-19 has placed on the media sector.

“With declining revenues, rising costs and an outdated regulatory framework, the capacity of Australia’s media sector to provide Australian programming, local content and public interest journalism is being challenged,” he said.

“These structural pressures have been accelerated by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforcing the need for regulatory action.”

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) welcomed the proposed Aussie content quota for streaming services.

But MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said the details of how any policy will be implemented will be crucial.

“While we need to see more detail within the Government’s green paper, placing a requirement on streaming services to invest a percentage of their Australian revenue in local content gives a devastated local industry much hope for the future,” he said.

“We will be studying the green paper carefully, and consulting our members to prepare a submission in response.

“Getting this reform right will create thousands of jobs and also benefit audiences for generations to come by bringing more uniquely Australian stories to the screen.”

The new proposals follow a recent regulatory change by the government which saw it scrap several children’s content quotas. From 2021, TV networks will no longer be required to air at least 260 hours of children’s programs and 130 hours of pre-school programs annually.

Those changes were made with a view to simplifying local content quotas, meaning that each network’s level of Australian content can be a mix of drama, children’s content, or documentaries.

55% of the programs TV networks broadcast between 6am and midnight will still have to be local content.

The government will also inject $53 million from the 2020-21 Federal Budget into the development and production of local film and television content

Fletcher says the recent and proposed changes will keep Australian content on screens whether viewers consume content on free to air TV or streaming services.

“What we are proposing would rebalance Australia’s media regulations so that the industry can continue to support jobs, connect communities, and keep Australian stories on our screens regardless of whether they prefer to watch free-to-air television, subscription television or video-on-demand services,” he said.

The government is seeking public submissions on the Green Paper by 7 March 2021.


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