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Australian content campaign group slams global streamers report on local investment

Campaign group Make It Australian

A group of Australian producers, directors, writers, actors and crew have slammed a recent report released by the main US streamers about their investment in Aussie content as “an opaque delaying tactic.”

The report, titled Streaming for Australia: How Streaming Services are Making a Meaningful Cultural & Economic Contribution to Australia’s Creative Economy, was published by US streamers Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Paramount+ as well as local player Stan.

It argues that the companies are pulling their weight when it comes to investing in Aussie content and the Australia New Zealand Screen Association (ANZSA) said it “demonstrates their valuable contribution to Australia’s creative economy.”

However, the campaign group Make It Australian (MIA), which represents organisations including the Australian Directors’ Guild, the Australian Writers’ Guild and Screen Producers Australia, has labelled the report as “unhelpful and lacking transparency.”

While acknowledging the important role the streaming services play in the Australian screen industry, the MIA campaign has questioned the accuracy of the report.

The MIA campaign believes that the US players and Stan are “fearful” of “long overdue” regulation that would ensure they deliver Australian stories on screen.

Australian producers, directors, writers, actors and crew have called on Australia’s federal parliament to impose a local content levy on international streamers, equating to 20% of their Australian revenues.

MIA said the Streaming for Australia report makes much of the SVoD services’ claimed A$628.9m (US$408.1m) expenditure. However, they add this figure includes A$450m of content that is classified as “Australian-related,” with no explanation as to how this category is defined.

This leaves an actual expenditure by the combined streaming companies in commissioned or co-commissioned Australian stories in the 2020/21 season at just A$103.76m, a year-on-year decline of A$18.6m, MIA said.

“This is a far cry from the report’s claim that ‘the majority’ of the streamers’ spend was on commissioning new Australian drama, kids’ content, documentaries, light entertainment and other genres,” MIA said.

“There remains some confusion around what ‘other’ genres include, with the peak bodies assuming it refers to sports programmes, including live sports, further conflating the investment numbers,” MIA added.

“Reporting of investment by the streamers should deliver robust, valuable evidence for policymakers on the uptake and spending on original Australian stories, but the current data falls well short of that expectation,” said Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner.

“It’s reported that revenue earned from Australian audiences by global streaming technology businesses will reach US$2.5bn by 2023. This represents as little as 0.3% of the US$37bn these streaming platforms reportedly have to spend on content worldwide.

“We are facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to safeguard and strengthen Australian stories for future generations. This moment has been over a decade in the making, with countless reviews, submissions and reports, so the time to act is now,” added Deaner.

MIA said it is also important to distinguish between ‘spending’ and ‘investment’ to gauge the impact on the industry as spending on economic activity such as crew accommodation or advertising on global social media platforms does not provide any direct benefit to the screen sector.

“We know there is a hunger for Australian stories here and abroad, and the creative talent to tell them is ready and willing. We need investment in the creators who generate enduring stories and ongoing intellectual property,” said Australian Writers’ Guild executive director Claire Pullen.

“Conflated numbers and vague categories don’t provide a strong grounding for data to shape policy decision, and this appears to be a loose attempt to hinder the momentum of much needed and long called for regulation,” added Australian Directors’ Guild executive director Alaric McAusland.

“There is clearly audience demand for fresh Australian storytelling that reflects the diversity of our nation that our world-class performers and crew are helping to deliver time and time again, and we need genuine investment by the streamers to keep that content flowing through,” added Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance chief executive Erin Madeley.

The Streaming for Australia report closes by stating: “Based on all the evidence available today, it is evident that market forces are working – we are delivering Australian stories and local investment. We are proud of the investments our companies have made supporting Australian stories on our screens, working with the local production sector, local broadcasters, and the post-production facilities.

“We are pleased that our presence in Australia is giving young practitioners a chance to realise their dreams of working in the screen industry. We relish the opportunity to showcase a broad array of new Australian content on our services, and support often forgotten but loved classics.”

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