Australia’s streaming quota debate: the final season
If Australia’s debate over streaming regulation were a Netflix series, it would start season six.
Unlike free-to-air and subscription television, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and the like have never had to make any Australian content. That changed with Monday’s National Culture Policy, although viewers will have to wait for the final episode to see how it all pans out.
As part of the policy, the government has set a deadline of 1 July 2024 to impose content quotas on the streaming giants, but the actual numbers have yet to be determined.
On one side of the long-running debate, Screen Producers Australia wants the major streamers to spend 20 per cent of their revenue from Australian subscribers on local screen stories, and chief executive Matt Deaner welcomed Labor’s deadline.
“If done right, it will not only secure our industry but also be the start of a cultural renaissance to bring Australian screen stories to audiences here and overseas,” Mr Deaner said.
On the other hand, the streamers feel they are already spending big to make original Australian content, with the Heartbreak High reboot a recent hit for Netflix, and documentaries such as Fearless: The Inside Story of the AFLW on Disney+ proving popular.
Yet compared to the flood of content pouring in from the rest of the world, shows like this are a tiny minority and are easily missed on the scroll for the next must-see series.
“The easy availability of mass content produced in other countries, particularly the US, risks drowning out the voices of Australian storytellers,” says one section of Labor’s policy.
Much of the screen content made in Australia is for international audiences and is not recognizably Australian – for example, the drama La Brea was made at Melbourne’s Dockland studios, but the story is set in Los Angeles.
For the screen producers’ elite body, it is the difference between Pirates of the Caribbean and The Drover’s Wife.
Both were made in Australia with the support of Australian taxpayers, but one is a haunting American fantasy, the other a historical tale by Henry Lawson set in the NSW highlands.
The debate is coming to a head as audiences switch away from free-to-air and subscription TV and towards streaming. In 2020/21, Australians were more likely to watch online subscription content than traditional television for the first time.
Genres of particular concern include scripted drama, documentaries and children’s content – these programs can be expensive to make and are easily replaced with overseas content.
To illustrate the impact that quotas can have, here is an example of regular old-school broadcasting. The recent removal of content quotas for Australian children’s television saw the number of local children’s programs halve in 2020/21, and of the seven titles in use during that time, six came from the ABC.
The government will undertake a six-month consultation to determine exactly how large the quotas should be.
He promised that the quotas would not be introduced later than July 1 next year.