Video streaming on demand (VSOD) is a multibillion-dollar business and one that Australian creatives want to capitalise on.
International streaming giant Netflix is reported to have spent $12 billion creating original content this year, and that figure is tipped to grow as audiences demand more new shows.
Firelight Productions’ Marcus Gillezeau told The Business there were multiple new VSOD entrants entering the marketplace, along with Netflix and Stan who had been around for several years.
“For producers and people who are creating new content, theoretically this should be a fantastic opportunity,” he said.
But the Emmy Award-winning producer says while there have never been more platforms to screen his content, competing with big global producers isn’t easy.
“When you’re trying to get commissioned in a global marketplace, from Australia, that can be hard,” he said.
A Roy Morgan poll reveals about 14 million Australians have access to VSOD.
Last year Australian streamer Stan, owned by Nine, increased its audience by 42 per cent to almost three million people.
But while Australian free-to-air networks and Foxtel have a quota to create Australian content, streamers do not.
Should there be a quota on Aussie content?
Stan launched four original shows this week at a star-studded event at the Sydney Opera House.
There was a common cry for streamers to implement quotas for Australian content.
Actor David Lyons, who is set to appear in Stan’s The Commons next month, said putting money into Australian content would reap benefits.
“We have some of the most gifted creatives and storytellers here. Why not try to push some of the money into that?” Lyons said.
But Matt Okine, creator and star of The Other Guy, which will launch its second season on Stan in December, said quotas were not the solution.
“It’s not just about filling quotas,” Okine said.
“People can fill quotas really easily by putting on repeats and rehashing old things.
“It’s about dedicating your time and services to creating new original content.”
Stan chief executive Mike Sneesby said Australian audiences loved seeing versions of themselves on screen.
“Every time we’ve launched an original production here in Australia, the numbers have gotten better and better,” he said.
“Aussies are telling us they love it.”
Actor Ewen Leslie, who will appear in locally produced The Gloaming next year, applauded Stan’s support for Australian content.
“They’re dropping four new Australian shows, which is incredible,” Leslie said.
“Netflix aren’t doing that. Disney+ isn’t doing it.
“But Netflix has been investing in Australian stuff, so hopefully there’s more of that to come.”
Mr Gillezeau said a mandated minimum spend would be better than a quota system.
“Prescribing what streamers should be commissioning, that it has to be set in Australia and … it has to have a crocodile in it, I’m not sure that would work,” Mr Gillezeau said.
Spending on streaming content is down
There are already incentives to create film and television in Australia, with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax offsets up for grabs each year to encourage locally-produced content.
Screen Australia’s 2018-19 Drama Report revealed almost $1.2 billion was spent on drama productions in Australia last financial year.
But the spend for streaming drama was only $40 million and down 25 per cent on the year before.
It’s a tiny fraction of the amount spent by the big global streamers.
Investment advisory firm The Motley Fool estimates Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and Disney+ spent a combined $25 billion this year on creating new content.
“That’s a kind of gold rush or mining boom,” Mr Gillezeau said.
“It’s something Australian production companies and the screen sector needs to be a part of, and we need to be a part of it now.”
In July, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission told the government more regulation was needed with its digital platforms inquiry.
Arts Minister Paul Fletcher said he was considering those recommendations and has been consulting with industry about how to improve the competitiveness of the sector.
“We’ve said we’ll come back with a full response,” he told The Business.
“I expect that will be by the end of the year or early next year at the latest.”
Screen Australia said it would take time to adjust to the demands of the changing film and TV landscape.
Chief operating officer Michael Brealey said Australian content is getting onto streaming platforms.
“But the challenge is to sort of pivot towards the new reality and also to ensure that those streaming platforms understand there is a wealth of creative talent here for them to tap into,” Mr Brealey said.