Australian gov’t proposes content regulations for streaming services

The Australian government is proposing regulatory reforms that could require multinational streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and others to invest millions of dollars in Australian content. Under the proposed ...
November 27, 2020

The Australian government is proposing regulatory reforms that could require multinational streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and others to invest millions of dollars in Australian content.

Under the proposed reforms, put forward in a Green Paper issued by Australia’s federal communications and arts minister Paul Fletcher, streamers would have the obligation to invest a percentage of their Australian revenue in local content, either through commissions, coproductions or acquisitions.

Further, SVOD and AVOD services would be required to “make Australian content discoverable to Australian audiences” and report to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) each year on performance against those expectations. Streamers that don’t comply with expenditure expectations over two years could be subject to formal regulatory requirements imposed by the minister under the proposal.

Currently, Australian free-to-air networks are required to have a 55% quota of Australian content on their airwaves, with additional sub-quotas for Australian kids, documentary and drama content. Citing the challenges facing free-to-air broadcasters — declining viewership and ad revenues — the government Green Paper states that quick action needs to be taken to help broadcasters meet those quotas.

“If we fail to act, meeting these objectives will be even harder as the trends of the past decade accelerate,” it reads. “It is likely that revenue for free‐to‐air television broadcasters will continue to shrink. Some providers may collapse.

“The financial pressure on broadcasters will have knock‐on effects for the production of Australian content,” it continues. “The volume, variety and quality of Australian content available is likely to decline; audiences will have access to fewer Australian voices and stories.”

Thus, the new proposals aim to set further into motion a “platform neutral” regulatory model. “The rebalancing of Australian content obligations would support the provision of Australian content across the range of services that audiences are using to access programming, delivering better outcomes for consumers and providing stability for the content production sector,” states the paper.

“After an incredibly hard year for the screen sector which has seen local stories suffer at the hands of content quota suspensions and production shutdowns, this is an exciting and welcome development for Australian audiences, as well as Australian creative workers and independent production businesses,” said Matthew Deaner, CEO of Screen Producers Australia, in a statement.

“Streaming services are now an entrenched part of the Australian entertainment and cultural landscape, deriving huge financial gain from operating here. Now is the time to be taking definitive steps to ensuring they make an appropriate contribution back to Australian audiences.

“Incorporating streaming platforms into the regulatory mix and leveling the regulatory playing field with the free-to-air networks will be crucial to unlocking the growth potential of our industry, delivering more jobs, added exports, extra economic activity and new high quality Australian content for audiences at home and abroad.”

The Green Paper also proposes imposing “an explicit requirement for the ABC and SBS to provide new Australian programming. This measure recognizes the key role that the national broadcasters play in the commissioning and broadcast of Australian content, and seeks to codify the expectation that they continue to fulfil this role.” In addition, the government is proposing that free-to-air networks be able to choose new broadcasting licenses that would provide a “lower cost model using less radiofrequency spectrum.” Funds raised by “reallocation” of that radiofrequency space — to mobile telecommunications companies, for example — could be used “to capitalize specific funds that would be established to support future television content delivery, in two priority areas: support for regional news services; and support for Australian drama, children’s and documentary content.”

The Australian government proposal is the latest example of attempts to regulate local content quotas and spends for global streamers. Earlier this month, the Canadian heritage minister tabled a bill that similarly reforms the Canadian Broadcasting Act, placing streaming services in a new broadcasting category called “online undertakings” and placing them within the scope of the Broadcasting Act, subject to domestic regulatory requirements.

Under the proposed reforms, the Canadian regulatory body, the CRTC, would be given “express powers to require broadcasting undertakings, including online undertakings, to make financial contributions to support Canadian music, stories, creators and producers.”

In October of 2018, the European Union put forward guidelines within its Audiovisual Media Services Directive that streaming services require 30% European content. As of September of this year, each country within the Union is responsible for adapting that within its laws.

(With files from Jordan Pinto. Image by Shutterstock.)

About The Author
Jillian Morgan is the Associate Editor at Realscreen with a background in journalism and digital marketing. She joined the publication in 2019 after serving as the assistant editor to trade publications HPAC and On-Site. With a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax, she also works as a freelance writer and fact-checker.