Up to 25,000 Australian creative content jobs are now on the line with the Turnbull government under heavy pressure to abandon or water down protective regulation.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims has told The New Daily he is about to receive his riding instructions (terms of reference) from Treasurer Scott Morrison for an inquiry into the impact of the new digital environment on media.
Under a crossbench deal with the Nick Xenophon Party to secure passage of the recent media reforms, Mr Sims must start his inquiry not later than December 1.
Mr Sims told a media law forum in Sydney last week that at the least he would establish the facts about the potential market domination of global digital disruptors. These include Facebook, Google and global video streamer Netflix.
Former senator Xenophon claims the interlopers are “hoovering up” $4 billion in Australian advertising revenue annually, while making negligible original local content.
Now subscription video on demand (SVOD) through WiFi transmission to households across the country – such as Netflix and Stan – has an audience of 5.6 million Australians.
For the first time, this beats linear pay television with an audience of 5.3 million. Pay TV, like commercial free-to-air broadcasters, is currently bound by legislated quotas for original or first-release Australian drama, news and current affairs, entertainment and children’s programming.
Even after the media reforms allowing domestic players to consolidate in capital city and regional markets and a licence-fee holiday granted by the Communications Department, Australia’s commercial broadcasters are seeking to abandon or water down content quotas, particularly children’s content which they say is difficult to monetise.
‘Watershed’ moment could wipe away local programs
Netflix now has one million Australian subscribers. CBS, which is taking over the Ten network, is about to launch CBS All Access on the Australian video streaming market.
On top of the ACCC inquiry there are two more reviews underway: a House of Representatives parliamentary inquiry into the TV and film industry and a Communications Department inquiry into children’s screen content.
Last month, a unity ticket of industry local content stakeholders – the Australian Directors’ Guild, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Screen Producers’ Australia and the Australian Screen Industry Group, launched a national campaign to extend local content rules to all digital platforms with access to Australian audiences.
In a presentation to MPs, Directors’ Guild CEO Kingston Anderson said: “We are at a watershed in the history of the screen industry with the government looking at sweeping changes that could effectively wipe away Australian content on our screens and take us back to the 1960s.”
Local-content employment said to be at risk is based on an estimated 20,000 direct full-time jobs in film and TV, with an estimated 4000 jobs in post-production services. Domestic economic value is calculated at nearly $3 billion annually.
In national economic perspective this compares with 200,000 full-time jobs lost with the closure of Australian car manufacturing industry with $29 billion in lost economic output.
The greatest loss from any diminution or abandonment of local content creation, however, is considered to be cultural, with American and British programming eventually overwhelming any sense or sensibility of a national, Australian, identity.
Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster and was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism.