Documentary sector pushes back after omission from proposed streaming regulation models

Documentary 'ONEFOUR: Against All Odds' was produced for Netflix.

Industry stakeholders are seeking clarification from the Federal Government about the place of documentary in the incoming streaming regulation, after the genre was omitted in the models proposed in the Targeted Consultation Paper.

The document, sent to streaming services and screen organisations earlier this month, outlined two options for the regulation – an expenditure model featuring a progressive obligation for Australian drama programs based on the number of subscribers a service has in a financial year, and a revenue-based model where services would be required to spend 10 per cent of their Australian revenue on local drama, including commissions and first-on-platform acquisitions.

For the purposes of the policy, an Australian drama program incorporates children’s drama, as well as scripted comedy, but only dramatised documentary, leaving members of the industry to wonder how factual titles, along with children’s non-fiction, will be considered within the new legislation.

Madman Entertainment CEO Paul Wiegard, EP of recent documentary titles Rose Gold, Rachel’s Farm and The Giants, told IF it was time for a streaming regulation model that was “transparent, and commits to Australian scripted drama, documentary, and children’s content”.”

“The investment obligation, based on revenue, must focus on commissions and acquisitions for content to maximise the number of investor doors for producers to knock on,” he said.

Fellow producer Simon Nasht said there was “nothing smart” about the decision to leave documentary out.

“The optimistic view is that it slipped through the paperwork and I hope that is the case, because the alternative of someone deciding this isn’t important is kind of terrifying,” he said.

“What has been one of the great, surprising triumphs of Netflix, and to a certain extent Amazon as well, is the incredible cut-through of their documentaries. Netflix even won an Oscar for Icarus.”

IF understands that, following the release of the paper in the week of November 6, a roundtable was held with industry stakeholders where the omission was discussed.

Documentary Australia CEO Mitzi Goldman told IF her organisation was in the process of providing feedback to the Arts Department about the document, having been taken aback by the genre’s exclusion.

“We were surprised that documentary was not included in the new framework, and are in discussions with the department about the importance of including documentary in any Australian content obligation,” she said.

With his organisation preparing to make its submission to the paper next Monday, Screen Producers Australia (SPA) CEO Matthew Deaner was optimistic about including documentary as part of the investment obligation for streamers, noting the omission of this genre from any regulation is inconsistent with the National Cultural Policy.

“With regulation being introduced in early 2024, and coming into effect July 1 2024, there is a lot of detail to get right, as the industry has been waiting so long to get this regulation done,” he said.

“SPA has been consulting with our members to ensure vulnerable genres like children’s content and documentary are part of the investment mix for streamers, as well as ensuring we retain ownership and control over our industry output – Australian intellectual property.

“SPA’s submission will outline the policy detail we feel is essential to foster a sustainable and growing screen industry in Australia, and most of all, ensuring we continue to see Australian stories on our screens.”