Industry Leaders Call for Reviews, Renewal to Meet Growth Challenges for Australian Film

Courtesy of Screen Producers Australia
Brian Rosen

SPA president Brian Rosen and former News Corp Australia CEO Kim Williams call for an overhaul of policy settings to bring the industry into the 21st century.

Screen Producers Australia president Brian Rosen and former News Corp Australia CEO Kim Williams have united in calls for reviews into the support mechanisms for Australia’s film industry and media sector, to ensure growth in production and audiences, warning that existing government policies and regulations are hopelessly out of date to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

In his opening addresses to the SPA annual conference in Melbourne, Rosen said that a year of change in 2013, with a new executive director for the organization, a new government and arts minister and a new CEO at screen Australia, provided the opportunity for renewal and a reassessment of where the industry stands.

He said the television sector was "an industry in growth," able to feed an increasing consumer appetite for drama, doc’s games and reality TV but warned that growth in the sector was being hindered due to “the artificial cap ... for television being unable to close financing without direct [government] funding”.  

Rosen said one solution was to increase the TV thresholds for the producer offset. Its currently set as a 25 percent rebate for up to 60 hours of TV drama in a series, but the industry has long been lobbying for that threshold to be raised to 40 percent -- the same as for feature films.

That would “deliver a more efficient mechanism f of funding, lessen the need for direct funding for more commercially oriented projects and allow the market place to drive production decisions more easily."

He added that Screen Australia’s recent initiative to provide development funding for high end international TV drama was “encouraging."

But Rosen said the outstanding issue was stagnant levels and audience engagement of feature film production. The introduction of the producer offset five years ago had not fuelled the kind of growth on feature films that had been hoped for, he said. While there is one feature film a year that engages with audiences, “the underlying health of the medium is suffering” – a trend that’s being felt by the independent film sector in most markets worldwide.

“We need to come up with a policy direction that will ensure growth in both production and audiences for our features. The present status quo is not sustainable unless we actively change the mechanisms that we operate under,” Rosen said.

“The traditional financing and viewing mechanism of the bygone era’s are anachronistic in this new digital delivery and we need to take a hard look at what we are trying to achieve in supporting a feature film here in Australia,” he added. 

“If we can get the setting right there is no reason why we will not become a truly great export industry of Australia in selling our IP to the world as well as being the next big employer of young Australians now and into the future,” he finished.

Anachronistic policy was  a theme which Williams then took up and expanded on with gusto, delivering the annual Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture.

Williams, a former CEO of the Australian Film Commission and CEO of pay network Foxtel, said the industry and government “need to recognize that we actually do live in a new era. The world is not changing – it has changed” and it needs to “move away from the notion of government assistance as delivered subsidy."

Calling for an immediate, major review of Australian policy settings governing the media and content industries he said, “Our broadcasting act is essentially 20 years old ... essentially consistent with the priorities when first enacted in the early nineties,” the previous government Convergence Review “was a lamentably poor piece of work” which “avoided almost all the relevant issues” producing recommendations which “originated firmly from twentieth century roots in blind disregard to the obligation to be technology neutral and consumer focused."

As to the countries copyright laws, they are “woefully inadequate and out of date. They are unequal to the task in confronting piracy and defending the absolute rights of producers to defend and exploit their work in a country where over 50 percent of all video material consumed is stolen,” Williams said.

With a potential 75 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020 Williams said “digital property isn’t just a quirky add on to our economy any more, these technologies are increasingly dominating our economy and its direction."

“You need to forge a new dialogue to renovate the industrial, policy, legal and commercial settings through debate and close partnership … The approach needs to be rooted in the 21st century and its digital dynamics and all the challenges and opportunities that it presents.”