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The federal government has delayed introducing legislation to impose local content quotas on streaming giants until 2024, increasing uncertainty in Australia’s entertainment industry as it also deals with the fallout from the Hollywood strikes.
Earlier this year the federal government said it would introduce local content obligations for international streaming services and started consultation with the industry over how the rules would work.
Disney+ original Australian series ‘The Artful Dodger’ will premier in November.Credit: Disney
The government had intended to introduce the bill to parliament in the spring sitting to give streamers at least six months to adjust before the regulation became law, but the bill will now be introduced at a later date.
Arts Minister Tony Burke said the government remained committed to implementing quotas in July next year despite the setback.
“The government is taking more time to consult with all parties before introducing legislation,” a spokesperson for Burke said. “We remain committed to introducing content obligations for streamers by July 2024.”
Following the announcement earlier this year, the government started talks with the industry, including Australia’s free-to-air networks, streaming companies, Foxtel, and producers.
Arts Minister Tony Burke at the National Cultural Policy launch at the Espy in St Kilda in January.Credit: Scott McNaughton
The consultation is aimed at setting the scope and shape of the model. It is not clear if the rules will require companies to spend a certain percentage of revenue on Australian content, or whether a percentage of content released must be produced in Australia.
One of the leading advocates for the introduction of a local levy, Screen Producers Australia (SPA) is pushing for at least 20 per cent of streamers’ Australian revenue to be diverted to spending on local content, which would be similar to policies in France and Italy.
SPA chief executive Matt Deaner said he understood the need for the government to gather appropriate data and consult for what will be landmark legislation, but called the delay “frustrating” after a nearly 10-year wait.
“We are hearing anecdotal reports of a near-freeze in commissioning of new programs by some of the streaming platforms who are also keen to know what their future obligations to Australian audiences will be,” he said.
FreeTV Australia, which acts on behalf of Nine, Seven and Ten, has opposed streaming quotas, arguing the local industry is already in good health. It declined to comment on the delay.
Across the 2021-22 financial year, Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Paramount+ reported combined expenditure of $668.5 million on “Australian” and “Australian-related” content, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The ongoing actors and screenwriters strike in the US has also placed pressure on the local industry after several major international productions were shut down. For example, pre-production on $180 million sci-fi series Metropolis (NBC Universal), which was to be filmed in Melbourne, was scrapped while the $79 million production of Apples Never Fall featuring Sam Neill was also brought to a standstill.
NBC reported on Tuesday that the unions and studios remain some distance apart on major issues, with no end to the strike in sight.
Production on popular international programming including Yellowstone, which airs on Stan, and Netflix hit Stranger Things, have been halted as a result of the strikes.
Disney cancelled the release of an Australian-made TV series Nautilus in August, which received more than $30 million in taxpayer subsidies. Disney’s locally made series The Artful Dodger is set to premiere in November.
“The sooner this is dealt with the better – but getting a fair and robust model will make this delay worth it,” Deaner said.
In August, Netflix announced four new Australian productions, including a feature-length film, two original series and a documentary on Sydney drill rap group, Onefour.
In July, former CEO of Nine, and co-CEO of local studio, Dreamchaser said: “The one thing that would really be beneficial now would be the release of the new proposed laws about quotas in this market because that would certainly give everyone some focus as to at least what’s got to be done domestically.”
A recent industry survey from Telsyte reported Netflix as the market leader for subscribers, with 6.1 million. Disney has 3.1 million local subscribers according to the report, behind Amazon Prime Video on 4.5 million, although the latter’s subscription offers a number of services.
The study surveyed 1100 Australians, in August and 1030 in December, while also drawing on financial reports from streaming companies and interviews to compile the data.
The accuracy of the results has been contested by several streaming companies, which found an average of 3.4 subscriptions per Australian household, up from 3.3 in 2022.
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