Senate committee recommends withdrawal of proposal to halve Foxtel drama quota


A Senate committee has gone against Foxtel on a proposal to halve subscription television’s local drama quota, recommending that the legislation remains as is.

In its report on the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill, the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee instead calls for the government to “expedite a response” to the media reform green paper to “harmonise the regulatory framework for Australian content obligations”.

It’s the latest twist for the media reform, which moves to reduce subscription TV providers’ obligation of drama channel revenue towards local content from 10 per cent to 5 per cent.

After being flagged in last year’s Federal Budget, the proposal formed part of a bill to amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 that was referred to the committee for inquiry last month.

More than 50 industry submissions were received in response to the amendments, which were initially due to take effect next month.

Foxtel was among the strongest advocates for the change, which it said would improve the subscription television sector’s ability to compete, while also allowing greater flexibility of investment on Australian content across other genres.

However a joint submission from 15 screen-related bodies suggested the reduction would result in investment being taken away from Australian drama, given Foxtel’s argument for “complete deregulation”.

In its report, the committee said while it recognised the bill’s objective to “maximise the cultural and economic benefits of Australian content in an environment in which audiences are increasingly moving to different platforms”, it believed the best way to create a level playing field was to remove the proposal and for the government to hasten its response to submissions on green paper.

The report also made specific reference to submissions from the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) and the Australian Screen Sound Guild (ASSG) that credited local drama production with providing greater work opportunities for the post-production sector than the offshore productions that film in Australia.

The committee recommended the government consider “mechanisms
through which Australia can capture a greater share of post-production work
for film and television projects produced in Australia”.

The findings have already been welcomed by Screen Producers Australia (SPA), with CEO Matthew Deaner commending the committee for its “sensible” recommendations.

“This is welcome news for subscription television customers and for Australian jobs and investment in the wider production sector,” he said.

“There is an in-depth policy discussion currently going on about the best way in which to modernise and future-proof Australian content regulation and the role of highly profitable and popular streaming services in delivering Australian content to their audiences. 

“We think it’s right that any further cuts to Australian content rules on traditional media are held back until we understand what rules will apply to services like Netflix, Stan, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video.” 

SPA’s submission to the green paper proposes that streaming services be required to spend 20 percent of locally sourced revenues on commissioning new Australian content, with minimum requirements to protect drama, documentary, and children’s content.

Find the full senate committe report here.