Industry bodies label government funding for streaming services ‘inexplicable’ and ‘outrageous’

The federal government’s choice to expand rebates for locally-produced content to include streaming platforms has been slammed by industry bodies Free TV and members of the Make It Australian campaign.

The announcement was released last week from communications minister Mitch Fifield, declaring that the policy would be changed to allow streaming platforms to access the tax breaks. The rebates can be applied to location, post production, digital and VFX costs for locally-produced content.

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said the decision ignored the growing issues that affect Australian content creators.

Bridget Fair

“This announcement is outrageous. It has been six years since the Coalition government was elected. Free TV has consistently sought meaningful reform of content regulations that have been in place since the 1980s,” said Fair.

“The Australian Content Review was conducted in 2017. After two years, Minister Fifield has seen fit to announce a single initiative five minutes before the commencement of the caretaker period that benefits foreign multinational streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.”

There’s been pressure on the government to enforce local content quotas on streaming platforms such as Netflix and Stan to match those which are placed on free to air networks. Speaking at the Screen Forever conference in 2018, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said streaming services which wish to operate in Australia should abide by the same rules as free-to-air networks.

“I do think we need to keep strong, local content quotas in Australia [for the free-to-air networks],” said Hanson-Young.

“But I also think we need to be looking at how we adapt the rules and requirements for the streaming services. I think it’s time to come up with a quota for Netflix and Stan and Amazon and others coming down the line.”

The Make It Australian campaign, which is made up of several industry bodies including Screen Producers Australia, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the Australian Writers’ Guild, and the Australian Directors Guild, said the funding move showed a ‘lack of confidence’ in Australian creators.

Kingston Anderson

“The government’s policy announcement is inexplicable and one-dimensional given how many times our local sector has called for urgent intervention,” said ADG CEO, Kingston Anderson.

“Our screen incentives need to be updated across the board, not just those that apply to international production. This decision shows a tremendous lack of confidence in the ability of Australians to tell our stories in our own voices.”

SPA’s CEO Matthew Deaner said the health of Australia’s screen industry required more careful policy considerations and actions.

“Independent and smaller-budget productions represent the vast majority of Australian screen stories, accounting for over 45% of screen content produced annually in Australia,” he said.

“These SMEs play an essential role in skill development and training as well as promoting innovation, creativity and risk taking.

“The overall health of the local Australian screen industry requires careful policy considerations. It is essential that we promote a legislative and policy framework that supports Australian stories.”

While the rebates will be accessible by internationally-owned Netflix and Amazon Prime, they will also be available for Nine’s Stan and Ten’s All Access, although these platforms do not fall under the local content creation laws that affect the free-to-air networks.

Stan has been the most prolific in commissioning Australian content, with No Activity, Wolf Creek, Romper Stomper, Bloom and upcoming series The Gloaming all produced in Australia.

Netflix has two Australian credits under its belt in Tidelands and the upcoming Lunatics starring Chris Lilley.

Netflix has commissioned Chris Lilley’s Lunatics

Neither Ten All Access or Amazon Prime have announced Australian production plans.

Fair said the government needed to remember that commercial television broadcasters are the source of more Australian production than any other player in the market.

“The government should be looking to how broadcasters can be assisted to continue the important role they play in the Australian production industry, not making piecemeal decisions that advantage unregulated competitors on digital platforms,” said Fair.

“It is deeply disappointing that the only significant Australian content policy announcement from this government in six years is to make Australian tax dollars available to fund Netflix productions. It defies logic to prop up unregulated foreign streaming platforms with government funding while commercial broadcasters remain saddled with a range of content obligations that no longer reflect how Australians are consuming content and are in urgent need of a complete overhaul.”

Fair said Free TV is waiting on a response from the government regarding the reviews the body has requested.

The incentive program includes the 30% post, digital and visual effects offset (a refundable tax rebate), a 16.5% locations offset and a locations incentive, capped at $25m a year.


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