AWG on quotas, SVODs and the Arts crisis

14 April, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the financial sustainability of our national television broadcasters, the Morrison Government today announced a suspension of content obligations until the end of this calendar year. While there will be no change to the requirement for broadcasters to meet a 55% Australian content obligation, broadcasters have been released from drama, children and documentary content quotas. This news is delivered at a time when Australians are streaming more content than ever, and global tech giants are prospering without regulation.  

Over recent weeks, Seven West (with a net debt of $540m) cut salary costs by 20% and Nine communicated a $200m cost-saving strategy. The current crippling cashflow crisis facing commercial broadcasters has precipitated a federal decision that was being carefully considered by multiple stakeholders prior to COVID-19. By postponing local content quotas to alleviate immediate financial pressure, the government will prematurely alter our TV landscape, in turn diminishing long-term employment prospects for writers and weakening our unique cultural voice. Paul Fletcher’s suspension of Australian drama, children and documentary content obligations until the end of December 2020 will allow broadcasters to evade local scripted production across two financial years and give them the option to hold back content that has already been produced. 

'The suspension of the quotas for Australian drama, children and documentary content until at least the end of the year is deeply concerning for the future of the entire industry,' said President of the Australian Writers’ Guild, Shane Brennan.  

'The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has given Australian networks the excuse they need in their quest to end the quota system once and for all. With this decision, the Federal Government has turned its back on the thousands of talented workers in this industry in favour of supporting a handful of media companies,' said Mr Brennan. 

In response to this announcement, the Australian Writers' Guild urges Paul Fletcher to strengthen his position on the regulation of global streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney+ by imposing local content obligations to mitigate the negative impact on the Australian screen industry. AWG welcomes today’s release of an options paper that was co-authored by Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to consider an updated support framework for Australian stories in a multi-platform environment.

Alongside SPA, MEAA and ADG, AWG is calling for the government to contribute a $1bn content fund to supplement Screen Australia investment and the immediate imposition of content obligations on SVOD services.

The Australian playwriting community is also reeling from the Australia Council’s recent four-year funding announcements, where small-mid producing companies with track records of commissioning, developing and producing new Australian plays were hit hard. La Mama, ATYP, The Blue Room and Barking Gecko were all unsuccessful in securing four-year funding, decimating opportunities for playwrights. ATYP’s National Studio was celebrated by playwrights as one of the best script development programs in the country. This feedback was highlighted in AWG’s submission to last year’s RE? Review. The Guild is in conversation with Australian Plays and Playwriting Australia as they strive to achieve funding beyond 2021 for a new entity for playwright and play development.

AWG will continue to fight to protect local content quotas, effective arts funding, our members’ livelihoods and our national cultural identity.