Australian VoD audiences are growing, and across more demographics than anticipated.

This is one of the findings from the Screen Australia report Online and On Demand: Trends in Australian online video use; which was released today at SPA’s Screen Forever Conference in Melbourne.

The report, which focuses on about Australian audience VOD trends and behaviours, is the first major profile of Australia’s VOD culture.

“I can tell you absolutely the key thing which I actually found fascinating,” Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason told IF. “Contrary to what we think in Sydney, where [there is a perception that VOD consumers] are a lot of boys in skinny jeans in Surry Hills and Newtown; actually, everybody is viewing online.

“It’s every demographic; it’s every social and economic category and it’s every gender.”

“The other key thing for me is this survey is apolitical. We’re not coming from the point of view from a traditional distribution person nor are we coming from all those boys who write on blog sites how evil production and distribution companies are.

“We are just stating, as a fact, ‘look how the world has changed in five years.’”

Indeed, as Mason points out, we have come from a world where, several years ago, sites such as YouTube and the concept of catch-up TV didn’t even exist. Now, according to Screen Australia’s research, 50 per cent of internet-connected Australians, from a variety of demographics and social situations, are using the internet to watch professionally produced film and television video content.

“In less than 10 years, the landscape has fundamentally changed,” says Mason. “It isn’t just one segment, it’s everybody.”

He then goes on to stress: “But that is not necessarily a scary thing. It doesn’t mean the sky is falling or the world has ended.

“People are still watching free TV and people are still going to the movies.

“It’s just a shift in behaviour which is in addition, or complimenting, the way they consume other stuff.”

According to the report, online viewing is still a very small (but growing) part of our onscreen relationship, with online viewers still spending more time connecting with traditional platforms; namely, watching free-to-air television, going to the movies and hiring DVDs. Importantly, the desire to view Australian content is strong; with most of the survey participants watching it across a number of mediums and just under half accessing it online.

The key, says Mason, is not to ‘freak out’ about the change in viewing trends, but to look to how the sector can capitalise on it and use VOD to their advantage, particularly in terms of Aussie content.

“We all want Australian content and obviously that is my focus,” he said.

“I want to find the best way to get Australian content made and seen. These changes in viewing habits, while they currently might be complementing [existing content]; we also have to think about what might be happening in five years’ time considering how much has changed in the last five. Rather than the conversation just being about piracy, it’s actually more about how we get content to people to be seen. 

“I think we have [in this report] some interesting research which looks at all the quadrants – not just the quadrant that we thought it was going to be. [Online consumers] have a real interest in Australian content. It’s showing how quickly we’ve moved.

“For me it’s about, what do we think, as a sector, this is going to mean?”

Mason doesn’t shirk from addressing overseas competition (“I mean we’re all waiting to see what Netflix does,”) but also encourages the Australian screen sector to address another challenge: how does Aussie VOD monetise?

“If you’re a producer for film or television – how do you make any money?” he asks.“That’s the other thing that does come out of our research here – people want it when then they want it, which maybe we can do, but they also want it for free or close to it. That’s not going to help a commercial broadcaster or commercial producer, and it’s going to put a lot of pressure on funders.

“That is a conundrum which the poll is showing.”

To see the full Screen Australia report, click here.

Screen Forever is being held at the Crown Conference Centre in Melbourne from November 16-19. 

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