Minister for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

A/g Minister for Regional Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

ACMA Conference – Australian Content Conversation Tuesday, 16 May 2017

16 May 2017

E & OE
Thanks very much Richard, it’s great to be here. And at the outset can I thank Ray so much for his welcome to country. I think that is one of the clearest expositions and articulations of welcome to country that I have ever heard.

And it is incredibly apt that we do have the welcome to country at an occasion such as this, because a welcome to country is about pausing and reflecting on those who have trod this ground before us, and those who will do so after us. That is part of the story of our nation, and what we are all here today to do is to focus on how we can continue to tell Australian stories. So Ray thank you again for sharing that with us.

Can I also particularly thank Richard Bean and his team at ACMA, along with Screen Australia and my department for showing leadership in bringing this conference together.

I must confess to you I had a little bit of a twitch when I was arriving here today. The last time I was at the Convention Centre I was here with my five year old for a Lego world exhibition downstairs. Those of you who know about thousands of five year olds, with lots of Lego and a Lego store as you leave, would probably understand what I am talking about.

But anyway, thanks so much everyone for gathering here today.

I think we are all absolutely on the same page that having quality Australian content available on our televisions, in our cinemas and on the screens in our hands enriches our nation.

It strengthens our communities. It brings us closer together.

So ensuring access to high quality Australian content must be, and is, an enduring Australian Government objective, as Richard commented. And I think there are 3 reasons why this is an enduring Australian Government objective.

First and most fundamentally, Australian stories need to be told. People need to hear our stories, our perspectives, our ideas. We have got a lot to share, and our stories and voices do matter. Our children need to understand the inherent uniqueness of our nation, and the character and diversity of our people. And Emma Rossi, when she was doing the vox pop with me, asked me what I thought when I think about Australian content. And the first word I said was childhood. Because of the things I saw on Australian screens that helped shape my view of what our nation is.

I think the second reason that this is an enduring and continuing Australian government commitment is that quality Australian content has an important place outside our borders. Our stories are sought out, they are relevant. There is a clear interest around the world in understanding our perspectives. Not only does it make economic sense to promote our content around the world; but never before, I would argue, has it been so important that our perspective is understood and heard around the world.

The third reason why this is an enduring government commitment is that we have a magnificent sector. Our creators are world class; our producers are cutting edge. Our policy settings need to ensure that we are building on our existing strengths. This is a sector that encourages innovation, imagination and continues to get international attention.

Across the Communication and the Arts portfolio, digitisation is presenting both opportunities and challenges for the industry and also for we in government and the agencies we have who determine policy.

We have heard a lot about the unprecedented change facing the industry. The actions that policy makers and regulators take now will have major consequences for the future direction of the industry.

That’s why this conference is so important and again can I congratulate the ACMA on initiating it.

Australian Government support allows all of us to enjoy uniquely Australian stories, encouraging us to reflect on who we are as a nation and to celebrate our vibrant identity.

In addition to entertaining us, Australian content keeps us informed of the stories that matter and helps to allow us to debate the important issues of the day.

Now we don’t, any one of us, want to imagine our children growing up without hearing Australian stories, told by Australians, about Australians.

Now I should pause at this point, and indicate that not always are the Australian stories that our kids hear the ones that parents want. I can thank that Australian film industry actually for evoking my first feelings of guilt. I remember as a little kid growing up in Adelaide in the 1970’s, crawling down the hall and night, when I was meant to be in bed, hoping to catch a glimpse of the cavorting naked figures on the black and white screen of an Alvin Purple rerun. So not always are the stories we want our kids to hear at that point in time. But anyway, I digress.

The production and distribution of Australian content does make a significant contribution to our GDP and employs around 20,000 people.

Now as it stands, and that is one of the reasons why we are all here, the incentives and regulations that are currently in place to support Australian content production and distribution do not reflect the realities of the digital age.

Audiences are turning away from traditional, linear content models, in favour of on-demand streaming. Additionally, parents are expressing a preference for ‘walled garden’ or destination viewing for their children.

The ACMA’s 2015-16 Communications Report shows a steady decline in hours of free-to-air television watched in Australian homes, from over 93 hours viewed a month in 2014, down to approximately 85 hours viewed per month in 2016.

The data also indicates steady growth in the number of Australians viewing TV, film and other content online, from 51% of Australians in 2014, to 63% in 2016.

More than 2.2 million households now subscribe to Netflix. Australian services such as Stan are reaching significant audience numbers and are actively commissioning original and innovative content, such as the comedy series No Activity.

The flip side to this growth in online viewing is fragmented existing markets and putting pressure on business models.

Never before has competition for audiences and advertising revenue been so fierce. Local players are going up against other Australian media companies, local productions are competing against cheaper international content and global online operators are drawing audiences to whole new markets.

Advertising revenues for traditional broadcasters are in decline.

Data from the Commercial Economic Advisory Service shows that over the period 2005 to 2015, free-to-air television’s advertising share fell from 31.8% to 24%. For newspapers, advertising share fell from 37.5% to 13.2%. Meanwhile, online platforms have increased their share, from 6.1% to 42.5% over the same period.

Despite these business pressures, in many ways, digital disruption has been a positive development. It brings with it more choice for consumers, who are enthusiastically embracing new platforms.

But in the face of this digital disruption, it has also become glaringly apparent that Australia’s content regulation and policy framework has some gaping holes.

The Australian Government wants to see Australian screen production and distribution businesses respond to the new environment – to not just adapt and survive, but to thrive locally and globally by harnessing the digital opportunities.

In the context, in the Budget just passed I announced that the Government is embarking on significant media reform.

The core elements of the Government’s reform package have been developed in response to the challenges that the broadcasting and screen production and distribution industries are currently facing.

  • We will abolish the broadcast licence fee – a relic of a bygone era when broadcasters could generate significant profits from their exclusive access to mass audiences. 
  • Instead, broadcasters will pay a new annual fee for spectrum which is more reflective of its use, estimated to raise around $40 million a year.

The financial relief provided by the package will give commercial broadcasters the flexibility to grow and adapt in the changing landscape and to invest in their business and importantly to invest in Australian content, and better compete with online providers.

In addition we are looking to remove the 2 out of 3 rule and the 75 % reach rule.

We are trying to design a media regulatory framework that gives broadcasters the best chance of competing in the new multi-platform environment.

We are doing this because we believe a healthy, sustainable broadcasting industry is essential for a good healthy democracy, but also for the availability of quality Australian content.

In short, these reforms seek to modernise the relationship between broadcasters and Government, in a structure that will serve into the future.

And just as I am touching on the future, can I take the opportunity to pause for a moment and talk of the value of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School which is tasked with very important work.

I am pleased to announce today that the new Chair of the Film, Television and Radio School Council is Mr Russel Howcroft.

Russel is a familiar face for all of us, as a regular panellist on ABC’s The Gruen Transfer. But of course, he has extensive experience in the screen industry as the Executive General Manager of Network Ten and as a board member of the Australian Film Institute and the Screen Forever Advisory Board.

Russel’s appointment follows some recent additions to the Screen Australia Board. Megan Brownlow has been appointed as Deputy Chair, and is joined by Joanna Werner and Jenny Taing.

I just wanted to give you an update, while I am here, of that appointment.

Now all of you who are here today know that in addition to the package of media reform that was announced in the budget, we also indicated that there will be a comprehensive review of the Government’s support for Australian and children’s content.

This review, importantly, will be conducted jointly by the Department of Communications and the Arts, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and Screen Australia to leverage the expertise that there is in all three organisations.

The intent is clear it’s to establish the best means of supporting the creation of high quality Australian content.

To cut to the chase, the way that we impose quotas, the nature of the expectations we put upon broadcasters, the way in which we foster original content, the incentive structures in place, were all fit for purpose at a time that is no longer with us.

The world has moved on.

What I am seeking from this review is identification of a mix of regulation and incentives fit for a multi-platform, highly competitive digital era that will ensure that quality Australian and children’s content continues to be available for Australian and global audiences.

We want to make sure that these settings maximise audiences and allow growth and prosperity across platforms.

I need to acknowledge that we are not starting from a green field. The structures and policies we are seeking to modernise have served us well. They need to change but we do have a strong base to contemplate the future.

Since it was introduced in 2007, the Producer Offset has fundamentally changed film and television financing in this country. The equity it provides to producers has given them a real seat at the bargaining table, empowering them to attract domestic and foreign finance and establish international links.

This morning we have heard the announcement of the first Netflix Australian commission, the drama series Tidelands that will be filmed in Queensland. Well done Hoodlum Entertainment on that milestone.

The Producer Offset has helped build businesses. It’s made them more sustainable. And it’s boosted overall production levels and budgets.

And the results are clear: Australian producers are making ambitious stories that cut through here and overseas. The Academy Awards and nominations for titles such as Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, Fury Road and Tanna show just some of the industry’s recent successes.

Australia is also making a serious impact in the area of children’s television programming. In the last five years, three Screen Australia-supported children’s titles have won International Emmy Awards: Dirt Girl World, Nowhere Boys, and most recently, Doodles, which earned Ludo Studios their second Emmy Award.

Following the introduction of the PDV Offset, major international blockbusters have been engaging Australian post, digital and visual effects production companies.

For example, Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) visual effects supervisor Tim Crosbie was part of the team nominated for an Academy Award for best achievement in visual effects for X-Men: Days of Future Past. RSP also contributed to the Academy Award winning visual effects for the film Gravity. Most recently Iloura won an Outstanding Special Visual Effects award at the Emmy Awards for its work on Season 6 of Game of Thrones. Many of you would be familiar with the epic Battle of the Bastards episode. I am not, but many of you will be.

And the Location Offset brings big-budget productions to our studios, giving our world-class cast and crew skills and experience they then take to our own stories.

Contrary to earlier reports of its death, our television drama is robust, compelling and successful, with multiple dramas produced for every network in 2015-16, and shows on every network renewed in 2016-17. Quintessentially Australian stories such as Wrong Girl, Secret Daughter and Doctor Doctor are all drawing audiences.

And drama projects are selling well internationally. Top of the Lake, Wentworth, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, The Dr Blake Mysteries, The Code and Cleverman have been sold to 20 or more international territories.

Since 2009, over 35 Australian drama and documentary formats have been purchased to be remade for foreign markets, from comedies Wilfred and Review with Myles Barlow to Secrets and Lies, The Slap and Rake, and the ground-breaking documentary Go Back To Where You Came From.

And with Screen Australia-supported digital producers such as Victoria’s Katering Show Kates and Aunty Donna, and Adelaide’s RackaRacka twins reaching millions online around the world, it is time we assessed the way we support content in light of 21st century.

The Review represents a major opportunity for government, industry and the Parliament to ensure the ongoing availability of quality Australian and children’s content for ourselves, and for future audiences.

And what we want is your views. Dare I say it the answers seldom come from government, or right answers seldom come from government when you are looking at policy settings. I have found in this portfolio and also in my previous portfolio, disability and aged care, that the answers come from the sector itself.

The review will start from the view that Government regulations and incentives for content production and distribution need to enable your industry to respond to the challenges and capitalise on future opportunities.

The Government is committed to policies that ensure the ongoing availability of everything that you believe in and want to achieve.

I know that many of you here today will make a big contribution. I know that many of you have already taken the time to make a submission to the current House of Representatives inquiry into ‘Factors contributing to the growth and sustainability of the Australian film and television industry’. That review initiated by and conducted by my parliamentary colleagues is a complementary process, and will be an important contribution to the content review.

The terms of reference themselves will be available shortly and the objective is to have the review report to me with options by the end of the year.

We should consider today that start of the conversation. I know there are many people in this room who are anything but shy, and will be willingly sharing their views.

And can I finish by thanking you all for the contribution you have made to what is a truly wonderful industry. The contribution you have made to helping Australians to understand their past. To be better prepared for the future. And the ongoing work that you will undertake to help shape this industry to help shape the regulatory settings that will see continued growth from strength to strength.

Thank you

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