Australian television has rarely been better. The future of Australian television may be hanging in the balance.
These two statements are not incompatible. With reference to the first: there is a compelling argument to say we are presently enjoying a glut of high quality locally-made content. And that Australian narrative television – led by heavy hitters such as Please Like Me and The Kettering Incident – is now more bingable than ever.
Statement number two is more hyperbolic, perhaps, but not out of step with some voices from within the film and TV sector.
The debate about content quotas (that old chestnut) has flared up again, in relation to whether online streaming providers such as Netflix and Stan ought to be forced to contribute a prescribed amount of locally-produced programming.
Gazing into the crystal ball, and not liking what he sees, Matthew Deaner, president of Screen Producers Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald this week: “We’re at a tipping point, and what the government decides will either grow the industry or decimate it.”
The federal Department of Communications is expected to hand down recommendations by the end of the year. To quota or not to quota? That is the question. If, indeed, we insist that we must keep on asking it.
Introducing such quotas for platforms like Netflix and Stan will be catching up to present reality, not anticipating the future.
We know what the Australian television landscape would look like without content quotas. In a word: imported. Wall-to-wall programs sourced from America and the mother country, plastered across our networks day and night. Many of these, unlike local productions, benefiting from huge budgets and economies of scale.
Current content quotas stipulate a minimum of 55% Australian programming from 6am until midnight, though only a small portion of that is scripted drama. Also, preposterously, current regulation considers New Zealand and Australian productions to be the same thing. When the Seven Network aired New Zealand From Above in 2015, it counted as Australian.
So that beautiful, idyllic, true blue television landscape, choc-a-bloc with Australian stories, created by our own industries? That is not the world we live in. But something, as they say, is better than nothing, and there’s no doubt the current quotas have value.
Should there be content quotas for streaming providers? Please. Of course there should. With the slow death of the traditional TV dial, all the big players will end up exclusively in this space anyway. Introducing such quotas for platforms like Netflix and Stan will be catching up to present reality, not anticipating the future.
And what, pray tell, does the future have in store for the boob tube? That’s the $64,000 question, on which so much depends. The truth is that nobody knows. But here’s a few things that might get you thinking.
While the content quotas conversation resurfaced in Australa, a series of compelling news reports came out of America. Compelling, because they paint a rather interesting – and perhaps unexpected – picture of the future of home entertainment.
A tiny, community-run organisation called Facebook announced its first commission of a long-form television-style original series. It’ll be reality TV, but the social media network is also currently in talks with Hollywood studios about producing scripted content, reportedly prepared to cough up $3 million per episode.
In a future world where Facebook has added “major television broadcaster” to its list of achievements … how will an Australian government regulate that content?
A small, inconsequential company – some dudes working for something called Apple – furthered its own push into original content. They poached Sony co-presidents Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg to head their video programming department. Erlicht and Van Amburg are best-known for overseeing the production of Breaking Bad.
Something the kids use, called Snapchat, struck a deal with Time Warner (the company that owns HBO and Warner Bros.) to the tune of US$100 million. The multinational entertainment conglomerate will produce up to 10 Snapchat-specific shows each year for the next two years.
Not to be outdone, the slightly older, cooler kids at VICE put down their biodegradable bongs and collected US$450 million to boost their own video content. They will create subscription services to sell videos to consumers.
All these announcements arrived in the last fortnight. Meanwhile, at the arse end of the world, Australians discussed content quotas on streaming providers. Cripes. If this conversation didn’t feel a mite old hat before news arrived about what the big yank tech companies are up to, it certainly does now.
In a future world where Facebook has added “major television broadcaster” to its list of achievements, and the competition has followed suit, how will an Australian government regulate that content? What kind of quotas will, or could, possibly be put in place?
It’s not just the future of Australian television, but television itself (at least in the form we presently know it) that might be hanging in the balance. All the disruption we’ve seen so far from Netflix and the like may be child’s play compared to what’s in the mail.
So pay attention, federal government, and pass those new content quotas already. The future is going to get a lot more complicated.