Hoodlum’s ‘Five Bedrooms’ is among the local dramas to have halted production. 

As the industry grapples with the impact of coronavirus, Screen Producers Australia (SPA) has called on the Federal Government to keep commercial broadcasters’ local content obligations in place.

With most current local TV production halted or postponed, there is the potential for commercial networks to breach annual content quotas as they currently stand. The Sydney Morning Herald reported today that government is therefore considering the prospect of temporarily relieving networks from content regulation, as well as spectrum fees.

However, SPA has rejected such a cut to quotas, arguing that the potential for broadcasters to “cold stop” commissioning  will further strangle the production sector. The organisation today released early findings of a survey that suggest the industry is already looking to take a more than $2 billion hit.

“Producers are acutely aware of the interruptions that COVID-19 will cause to the delivery of new Australian content to broadcasters. Producers are confronting the devastating impacts of project shutdowns right across the industry at present, with over 60 affected productions, and the likely consequence of complete business failures with extensive job losses,” said SPA CEO Matthew Deaner.

“However, any government response that involves reductions to annual content quotas would be excessive and deal a hammer blow to a production sector already on its knees.”

Rather than scrapping obligations, SPA has suggested the focus should be on managing the impact of the delay of content. It argues government should allow broadcasters to defer near-term quota obligations over the coming years – allowing broadcasters flexibility to average out obligations without reducing the quantity of content commissioned.

“Crucially, this would ensure the return of demand into the production sector when the current crisis has eased. In order to return to health, the production sector will need a ‘heart start’ when production activity is able to resume. Importantly, we can also expect consumers to be hungry for relevant, locally produced content at this time, as we have already seen a spike in viewership numbers across commercial networks and subscription television as Australians begin to self-isolate and work from home,” said Deaner.

SPA reports it has also put a range of proposed measures to government to help keep production businesses afloat until they can resume operations. These include activity from screen agencies to help keep businesses active through shutdowns, as well as proposals which will stimulate demand and facilitate the resumption of activity in the recovery phase.

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