TV industry to comment on new Screen Australia blueprint by Monday

By Sam Dallas

Australia’s TV industry only has the weekend left to get their submissions into Screen Australia.

Screen Australia announced new television funding proposals at last year’s SPAA Conference in Sydney, which left a bad taste in many mouths.

SBS was seen as the weakest link due to the proposals cutting the national agency’s funding for foreign formats and TV productions after the first two series.

This, in turn, would eliminate two of SBS’ top shows – the award-winning East West 101 and the popular Who Do You Think You Are?

Screen Australia CEO Ruth Harley was quick to point out that the multi-cultural broadcaster wasn’t being targeted.

The controversial 28-page proposal says: “This will ensure that Screen Australia’s funds are used to prioritise the development of Australian intellectual property and companies”.

SBS’ director of television and online content Matt Campbell told IF after the proposal was announced in November, that he didn’t understand the logic behind the blueprint.

“If great ideas come from overseas, why should we deprive the Australian public of it as well?” Campbell asked, of the new foreign format proposal.

“The car I am driving right now is not Australian but I’m still enjoying it. I don’t understand the logic in it.”

Licence fees have also been put under the microscope with the national agency proposing they would increase fee minimums by 10 per cent and introduce an annual CPI increase “while removing the requirement for broadcasters to pay a percentage licence fee”.

For children’s drama this would be $105,000 per hour while it would be $440,000 per hour for adult drama.

Introducing holdback periods are another proposal, which would be 24 months for children’s drama, 18 months for TV drama and 12 months for documentaries.

The new proposals aimed at “advancing quality and innovative screen content” come under two groups: a Convergent TV fund of between $30 and $35 million and an All Media fund of between $2 and $5 million.

These will replace programs and guidelines already in place, which were set up prior to the Producer Offset.

Three funding programs – rather than five – have been proposed for documentaries, which include: National Documentary Program, General Documentary Program and Signature Documentary Program.

Again SBS, along with the ABC, could be disadvantaged with a proposal to change documentary funding allocations as of mid-2011.

Currently both networks receive 40 per cent funding while 20 per cent is open to commercial and subscription television broadcasters.

Under the new proposal, any broadcaster could receive 60 per cent from five separate batches of funding.

If funding from a particular batch is not fully allocated, the remainder would be transferred to the following batch.

ABC2 controller and former ABC Head of Documentary Stuart Menzies told the conference this increased uncertainty for producers and broadcasters.

For more information on Funding Australian Content On ‘Small Screens’, visit Screen practitioners have until January 31 to provide feedback on the draft blueprint. The draft program guidelines are expected to be released in March for further comment and then the final guidelines will be released in May before taking effect on July 1.