The government will force video streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ to create a certain amount of Australian content, matching the obligations already in place for free-to-air television.
Arts Minister Tony Burke announced the proposal on Monday as part of a $286 million arts policy on Monday.
“If you’re watching the TV and the signal’s coming through the aerial, there’s a guarantee of Australian content. But if the signal’s coming through the internet there is no guarantee at all,” Burke said.
“In the second half of this year, legislation will be introduced to the parliament and on the first of July next year, Australian content obligations will apply to the streaming companies.”
Free-to-air stations are required to broadcast and create a quota of Australian TV to comply with media regulation.
Currently it works on a points system. Networks must earn 250 points a year to meet their obligations, which are based on the type of production (a documentary is worth one point) and how much it costs (up to 7 points for a drama program that costs more than $1.4 million per broadcast hour).
Exactly how the content quota will extend or be adjusted for streaming platforms is yet to be determined, though Burke and Communications Minister Michelle Rowland will now begin a consultation phase with the relevant stakeholders.
Streaming platforms are already becoming a major producer of Australian video content.
According to a report from Screen Australia last year, the 2021-22 financial year saw an all-time high level of expenditure on screen production with $2.29 billion spent, of which the streaming platforms fronted a record $445 million.
Australian shows have proved to be internationally successful, with the likes of Netflix’s remake of Heartbreak High gaining a strong enough global following to warrant a second season.
Local producers have been broadly supportive of the government’s proposal to enforce Australian content production requirements on streaming platforms.
Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner said it was “very welcome news”.
“If done right, this will not only secure our industry but also mark the start of a cultural resurgence in bringing Australian screen stories to audiences here and abroad,” he said.
“That is an incredible legacy to build for the nation.”
Screen Producers Australia is calling for the obligation to be 20 per cent of streaming platforms’ local revenue.
Deaner also recognised that there is an important discussion to be had about what exactly constitutes ‘Australian content’ given the local industry’s involvement in Hollywood blockbusters.
“There’s a world of cultural difference between ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘The Drovers Wife’, both of which were supported by Australian taxpayers,” he said.
Critics of the content quota proposal have suggested it could push up the cost of Australian productions, to the detriment of existing smaller networks, while effectively putting more content behind subscriptions paywalls.
Bridget Fair, CEO of commercial TV industry group FreeTV, said in the Australian Financial Review that she was “not sure we need to distort the market with new quotas”.
“If we skew it too far in favour of the streamers, we will end up with more content behind the paywall,” Fair said.