Netflix and Stan need local content quotas: Senator Sarah Hanson-Young

The time has come to force Netflix and Stan to create a certain amount of Australian content should they wish to continue to operate here, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young has argued, along with a number of screen industry executives.

Hanson-Young also pleaded with the local commercial free-to-air networks to create more compelling local stories, saying their reliance on reality television formats is not good enough.

Chris Oliver-Taylor, Neil Peplow, Jordan Nguyen, Virginia Trioli, Brooke Satchwell, Kevin Whyte and Sarah Hanson-Young at Screen-Forever

Arguing that now is the time for the Australian screen industry to double down on local content, Hanson-Young said the same rules needed to apply to all players.

“I do think we need to keep strong, local content quotas in Australia [for the free-to-air networks],” she said at the Screen Forever conference. “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.”

Hanson-Young took aim at the low-quality of content which can come out of international giants – “It’s cheap, it’s nasty, it’s junk food for the brain” – but also implored the local operators to up their game.

“I’ve had this fight with some of the commercial broadcasters about this. They say that reality television is the new family viewing. I’ll tell you what. I don’t want my daughter learning about her life as a young girl growing up from The Bachelor,” she said.

Chris Oliver-Taylor, now CEO of Fremantle, tended to agree, but said regulators and participants in the industry needed to ensure they were creating an environment in which the existing legacy players could continue to thrive.

“I think the issue with our international friends spending lots of money on content in Australia, is, on one hand, great, for those lucky enough to work in that space, on those stories. The issue is, is our sector going to survive on Netflix commissioning 200, 300, 400 hours of drama a year, and [documentaries], drama and kids shows for the next 10 years? Maybe. Maybe. We don’t know.

“I do think it’s beholden on us as Australians [to fix the problem] … We’ve got a proven place in our regulation that does ensure that our commercial networks, and the ABC and SBS and Foxtel, have a strong remit. We need them to be strong, we need them to want to invest in Australian content. We need viewers to come there. Now if that means we’ve got to stick regulation in place, that’s really unfortunate, but I would agree,” he said.

“We need a strong Seven, Nine, Ten, ABC, SBS and Foxtel. They’ve got to be strong, or we’re all in trouble.”

Kevin Whyte, managing director of Token, said there needed to be more parity between the local players and those coming in from other markets.

“I don’t think in the long-term it’s reasonable for us to expect the commercial free-to-air broadcasters to live with a quota without their competitors living with a quota.

“I do think there’s a reasonableness to quotas, given there’s a pubic spectrum that’s being exploited, and maybe that’s the price, particularly in a non-licence-fee world,” he said.

He also noted other countries were already looking into regulation of the emerging players, and Australia had to be careful not to miss its moment.

“I think there’s going to be a marketplace of regulation around the world. I think if we ignore it, or if we let this moment pass, I think we could find ourselves in a position where not only are we not an attractive place to make content that can go out globally, but also too, importantly as content becomes increasingly global, there’s still going to be those little shows that we want for ourselves. You know? There’s still going to be shows that they’re going to make sense for Australian audiences and maybe don’t travel. And I don’t think that the sole qualifier of a successful show should be ‘Will they watch it in the States? Will they watch it in the UK?’ It comes back to the balanced diet. We need to be producing extraordinary global content because we can, but also we should be producing things that we just like, because we can.”

The local content quotas debate is a recurring theme at the yearly Screen Forever conference.

At last year’s Screen Forever Q&A panel session, Georgina Downer, an adjunct fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) said taxpayer dollars should not be propping up the local industry, but Screentime’s Bob Campbell hit back arguing TV networks have no right to exist if they don’t follow the rules.


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