Australia to introduce streaming quotas
January 30, 2023
By Colin Mann
The Australian government has revealed plans to introduce requirements for Australian screen content on streaming platforms to ensure continued access to local stories and content in the third quarter of 2023 and to commence no later than July 1st 2024.
The proposal is contained in a National Cultural Policy document which notes that there is an increasing consumer trend away from broadcast and subscription television services to online subscription content. “In 2020–21, for the first time, Australians were more likely to have watched an online subscription service than live or recorded free-to-air television,” it says. “The Australian subscription video on-demand market grew nearly fifty per cent in 2021, with estimated total earnings exceeding A$2.4 billion (€1.6bn). These new streaming platforms are producing some high quality Australian content. However, unlike free-to-air broadcasting services and subscription television, these services have no requirements to make Australian content available on their platforms. The ready availability of mass content produced in other countries, particularly the United States, risks drowning out the voices of Australian storytellers” it warns.
“The Government has committed to take the necessary action so that Australians continue to be able to see and hear quality home-grown content, regardless of which platform they are using. It is important that streaming services invest in key genres, including children’s content, scripted drama and documentaries,” it asserts.
The Minister for the Arts and the Minister for Communications will undertake further consultation with industry in the first half of 2023 on the details of actions to be taken and implementation as part of broader reforms to media legislation.
Trade body Screen Producers Australia (SPA) welcomed the development. “SPA has long advocated for a content obligation of 20 per cent of major streaming platform revenue to be applied to Australian screen stories,” said SPA CEO Matt Deaner. “This will return some of the income generated from Australian subscribers back to the content they want. If done right, this will not only secure our industry but also mark the start of a cultural resurgence in bringing Australian screen stories to audiences here and abroad. That is an incredible legacy to build for the nation.”
“The release of a new National Cultural Policy is a landmark event for Australia’s creative industries, and SPA congratulates Minister Burke and all involved in the development of this. Arts and culture underpin national well-being and cultural identity. As well as being an important economic industry, they help to build a more compassionate and tolerant society. Culture is the core of our nationhood,” added Deaner.
Under the banner of the ‘Make it Australian’ campaign, this proposal has been widely supported across the screen industry and recommended through the findings in combinations of six distinct Government and Parliamentary reviews, with the most recent 2021 Parliamentary inquiry endorsing a 20 per cent investment.
According to the SPA, a revenue requirement fits well with the fluctuating, on-demand nature of streaming and, at 20 per cent, is consistent with the regulation in comparable nations with strong domestic film industries and cultural heritage, such as France and Italy.
It says the benefit of a legislated obligation is the certainty and confidence it will provide to a high-risk industry and in giving Australian audiences guaranteed access to their own stories and culture, irrespective of business decisions being made offshore in the US. Without regulation, a downward trend in Australian screen stories will be unchecked.
“There’s some critical detail now to be negotiated between industry and government that will affect whether this policy delivers what is needed for Australian screen culture and industry,” continued Deaner. “This includes what is counted as ‘Australian content’ and whether that definition meets the objectives of the new Australian National Cultural Policy and public expectations. Getting this right is no simple matter. There’s a world of cultural difference between Pirates of the Caribbean and The Drover’s Wife (pictured), both of which were supported by Australian taxpayers.”
SPA has also advocated for other important integrity measures, including no double-counting across platforms, with each hour of newly commissioned content to only be counted once between different content platforms and a cap of 20 per cent on how much of a content obligation can be allocated within vertically integrated businesses. As an important integrity measure that will avoid distortions to the value of the investment requirement.
SPA also believe that ownership of intellectual property and rights in Australian screen stories should revert to the creator after a fixed period of three years. This keeps Australian stories under Australian creative control and puts a block on the loss of valuable Australian cultural rights overseas.