ScreenAustralia head of online Lee Naimo. (Image: Mark Gambino)

The continued rise of YouTube and TikTok may mean more creators are shifting towards self-release models, but that does not mean there is less room for more traditional pathways of distribution.

That’s the view of Screen Australia head of online Lee Naimo, who is responsible for assessing funding applications for scripted and documentary creators working in the space.

The agency today announced $2 million for nine online projects, one of the largest rounds of funding to come from the department.

With two-thirds of the titles to be released on either TikTok or YouTube, Naimo told IF more content creators were coming to realise they didn’t need gatekeepers to build an audience.

“We’re seeing a lot more applications come in with TikTok as a release platform. Things have shifted a little bit away from the catch-up services of some of the broadcasters, so there’s not as much coming through from the likes of ABC iview,” he said.

“We have a partnership with SBS On Demand with Digital Originals, which is really strong, but we’re seeing a lot more projects with that self-release model.

“I think people are recognising there’s just an audience right there.”

However, he said there was also more opportunity for film and television practitioners to utilise online platforms.

“You’re seeing a lot of feature films use TikTok as a marketing platform and a way to engage an audience directly and then hopefully drive them to the cinema,” he said.

“I think TV shows are the same in recognising the value of these platforms, and how they can help build the content and that ecosystem, so we might see maybe a bit of a return to the multi-platform track, even if it’s via marketing, which is in itself content.”

The second season of ‘Ginger & the Vegesaurs’ was among the online projects to receive funding from Screen Australia.

Naimo knows more than most about the power of platforms like YouTube in building an audience.

Prior to joining Screen Australia as an online investment manager in 2018, the performer and writer was one-third of the musical comedy The Axis of Awesome, whose videos have achieved hundreds of millions of views on the site.

He said online creators had since matured to put a greater focus on development, allowing for more scrutiny.

“Having been an online creator myself back in the day, it was often a case of, ‘I’ve got an idea for a YouTube video, let’s film and write it this afternoon, edit it tonight, and then chuck it up tomorrow’,” he said.

“Now we are really seeing that development process elongate which I think is to its advantage in terms of really making sure the creative was challenged and scrutinised to be the best form it can be.

“[At Screen Australia] we look at the marketing and release plan – we really want to know that it’s going to find an audience.”

Naimo’s remit as head of online also includes overseeing Screen Australia’s games funding strategy, with the agency allocating $4 million to support 31 titles last month as part of the Games: Expansion Pack fund.

Designed to provide direct funding to original video games across different platforms with budgets below $500,000, the fund was expanded from its initial parameters of $6 million across two years due to the volume of applications for the first round, of which more than 100 were received.

While Naimo admitted it was still early days for Screen Australia’s re-entry into games funding, he was keen to make sure the funding was platform and genre agnostic.

“We want games that are engaging and compelling and fun, but there’s such a huge audience for games out there. We wanted to be able to say we’re supporting kids games or some educational games, as well as some games that are maybe for more seasoned gamers and casual gamer,” he said.

‘Future Folklore’ was among the games to receive funding through Screen Australia’ Games: Expansion Pack.

“I think it’s about what kind of audience you’re looking for, no matter where your project fits in, or what kind of game it is. Do you know who that audience is and are you able to convince them they’re out there?”

The Games: Expansion pack forms part of a suite of incentives designed to harness the potential of the rapidly expanding industry, with last year’s announcement of a Digital Games Tax Offset in the Federal Budget followed by the broadening of the NSW and Queensland post-production, digital and visual effects (PDV) rebates to include game development.

Naimo said the applications Screen Australia had received for the fund had indicated there was an opportunity to grow the business development side of the Australian sector going forward.

“We saw a number of amazing projects without necessarily a sense of the business underpinning them,” he said.

“I understand that from an online creative point that when you’re making a game or web series or building content, you might just get together with a couple of mates or you might just do it on your own.

“You just want to be making stuff and you don’t really think about this business underneat. Suddenly you expand to a size where you need an accountant and to either set up a business or company structure.

“There’s an opportunity to grow that with some kind of enterprise or bigger business funding. I think that would be really vital to help us keep punching above our weight on the global stage.”

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