E&OE TRANSCRIPT SUBJECTS: Australian content on online streaming services.
TOM ELLIOTT: For decades now, on our free-to-air TV stations, we've had local content quotas. So there's a certain amount of news you’ve got to have, drama, kids shows, all that sort of thing. I sort of understand why we have that, but then again, I sort of don't as well because I reckon people should just be allowed to watch what they want to watch. This really comes into sharp focus when you look at streaming services: think Netflix and Stan and Amazon and ones like that. Really there you've got a giant smorgasbord of things to choose from. In fact, there's so much content that I can't even get through a fraction of what I'd like to watch. I think that's what people want these days. They don't want to be told “you must watch a certain amount of Australian stuff or you must produce it”. They just say “look I'm interested in X, that's what I want to see”. Anyway, the Federal Labor Party disagrees. They want content quotas, local content quotas, on streaming services like Netflix and Stan. Our next guest is the Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, good evening.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Hi, how’re you going?
ELLIOTT: Good, thank you. So how would this work? How would you force Netflix to have a certain proportion of Australian shows?
ROWLAND: Well, just to be clear: we're not actually proposing that content quotas be introduced on subscription video-on-demand or over-the-top services. The argument that we are making, and it's one that's being made around the world, is that traditional broadcasting has changed. It's still popular but millions of Australians have adopted free online catch-up services, as well as ones that you pay for like Netflix and Stan. But, we only have rules that apply, in terms of Australian content, they only apply to commercial free-to-air television and subscription television services, and they apply in different ways. Internet-based or over-the-top services, they don't have any obligations. What we are saying is whatever obligations there are, we need to ensure that we've got a level playing field for the traditional free-to-air broadcasters.
ELLIOTT: Okay, but I mean, that leads us to two conclusions: one is you get rid of local content for free-to-air and just say to everybody you can broadcast whatever you want. The other one is, if you want to make it a level playing field, you impose the same content quotas on Netflix as you do, say Channel 9.
ROWLAND: Well, that's the subject of the debate, you're absolutely right. There are different mechanisms. You've got quotas even library catalogue percentages or expenditure requirements. But whatever the mechanism, I think we need to ensure it’s got the outcome we want. I think that your point is well made that people have a lot of choice now and no one should be standing in the way of that choice. But we need to also recognise that Australian identity and culture is very much linked to the success of the traditional platform. But also we want to make sure that that continues into the new world. And also, Australia’s not the only country looking at this: Canada is in the process of reviewing its content regime and of course, they've got a very dominant neighbour…
ELLIOTT: The United States.
ROWLAND: …in terms of their national identity right on their doorstep.
ELLIOTT: The thing is, we've not had an Australian blockbuster film for such a long time. I mean, you have to go back to Crocodile Dundee. Your average person wants to go to a multiplex cinema and watch part of the Avengers franchise for movies like Infinity War or something like that. I don't believe you can turn that clock back, you know, we're not going to have another Crocodile Dundee type movie. I mean, it just seems to me that well, how about this for an idea? There's something I've been toying with: given that the ABC is funded by Australians, how about we just say to the ABC: you can't have any foreign content, or only minimal foreign content. Really, surely the ABC is vehicle and should have all Australian content 24 hours a day and then let the commercial platforms do what they want?
ROWLAND: I see what you’re saying, but I think there’s two points there. The first is that just as Australians have adopted different platforms, Australians love diversity. They love to see different forms of content and different types of Australian content. You only have to look at the Logies. The diversity of content coming not only from the commercial and the public broadcasters, but also subscription, is extraordinary and it's incredibly high-quality. So…
ELLIOTT: Why interfere with that then? If it’s diverse and high-quality and people love it, why get the government’s claws into it?
ROWLAND: Well, that comes to the second point. You have to say well, why do we need obligations and why not just incentives? Part of this is because content is very expensive, and in some cases, can be extremely expensive to produce, often very difficult to finance and monetise, and this is where traditional broadcasters have well-articulated their concerns with the children's content regulations, for example.
You've got live Australian children's drama that's particularly expensive. You can get more animated titles produced because the format is cheaper. It can be re-voiced for global markets and you can monetise it in that way. But I think we also need to remember that you mentioned the lack of a blockbuster in recent memory. That still means that Australia is participating in the sector with Thor for example. We've got other productions that are done in Australia, but we're also competing with the rest of the world. We've got some incentives for films to be made in Australia. But again some of those location offsets in other countries are far more attractive than they are in Australia…
ELLIOTT: I know, but…
ROWLAND: … and that goes to the issue of jobs.
ELLIOTT: We haven’t got time to hash this out completely. But it seems to me, if you want to say, well if one of the Hemsworth brothers is in a movie, even if it's an American blockbuster franchise movie, does that make it Australian or if they choose to shoot the movie which is set on an alien planet but is shot on the Gold Coast, does that count as Australian? But I think when you talk about content, you’re saying stuff that has an Australian accent, or that is Australian themed, it is about an Australian story. The problem I have, and I think this is what has happened to the industry because the industry has become so overly dependent on grants from various state and federal government bodies and content rules that say that you have to have stuff made here. They're making stuff that by and large isn't what audiences want to see and therein lies the real problem.
ROWLAND: No, I see what you're saying. But I would also counter that with the fact that Australian content still is very popular with Australians.
ELLIOTT: But, if it’s popular, you don’t need rules about it. People will just choose it because they’ll vote with their wallets.
ROWLAND: Well again, the issue is that it is expensive to make and I would like to see, just as you have articulated in your opening comments, I would like to see Australians having the greatest choice on whatever platform they want to see and if they want to choose Australian content, it should be available and there should be a choice in that kind of content.
ELLIOTT: Alright, thank you for your time. Michelle Rowland, Shadow Minister for Communications.