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Australia’s film and television sector will avoid major disruption as a result of union strikes in Hollywood, although the Albanese government is being urged to finalise its decision over proposed local content quotas to ease uncertainty in the industry.
Former chief executive of Nine Entertainment Hugh Marks – who last year founded Australian studio Dreamchaser alongside former Endemol Shine boss Carl Fennessy – said the writer and actor strike had added a layer of complexity to the Australian industry.
Carl Fennessy and Hugh Marks launched Dreamchaser in anticipation of looming content quotas.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer
After announcing in January it would implement local content requirements for international streaming services, the government is yet to set a number for the quota. A spokesperson for Tony Burke, minister for the arts and for workplace and employment relations, reaffirmed a decision would be made this side of the new year, ahead of its implementation in July 2024.
Marks said the local offices of the likes of Netflix, Disney and Apple will be affected by the strikes, with Australian content pitches increasingly being angled towards a global audience.
The strikes have coincided with a period where streamers have shifted gears from “a gold rush of global domination”, Marks says, to being forced to figure out how to monetise their vast audiences.
Several, including Netflix, Disney+ and Binge locally, have turned to advertising as a contributing solution. A clear direction from the government, he says, would ease the headache over decision-making on domestic content.
“The one thing that would really be beneficial now would be the release of the new proposed laws about quotas in this market because that would certainly give everyone some focus as to at least what’s got to be done domestically,” Marks says.
“I’m certainly encouraging the government to act sooner rather than later to remove that unnecessary lack of certainty from the local market.”
In a positive for the local industry, a statement on Friday from Screen Producers Australia (SPA) noted the strike does not apply to non-scripted productions, including documentaries, light entertainment and reality shows – the latter of which is widely noted to be a beneficiary of the writers’ strike in 2007.
SPA said it anticipated a limited number of non-Australian productions will be affected by the strikes locally. The body said all scripted local productions produced and controlled by Australian production companies that have engaged Australian and Imported SAG members will continue unaffected, provided they engage all cast under Australian Industry Contracts in accordance with the Global Rule One Agreement between SAG-AFTRA and the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA).
While it has been suggested prolonged strikes in the US could see an additional influx of Australian-produced content, Marks believes it is too early in the process to think that might be the outcome.
The country’s biggest streaming services are required under legislation introduced by the Morrison government to report their spending on Australian content to the authority. The big five – Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Paramount+ – reported that in 2021-22 they collectively spent $668.5 million on “Australian” and “Australian-related” content.
Last month, NBC Universal walked away from its $180 million sci-fi series, Metropolis, which had pre-production under way at Docklands Studios in Melbourne. After the actors union voted to strike last week, the Sam Neill/Annette Bening drama Apples Never Fall, halted on Friday. Production was already under way in Queensland, budgeted at an estimated $79 million.
NBC Universal signed a content deal with Foxtel in November, with an extended deal with Warner Bros. Discovery, owner of the highly regarded network HBO, in February.
Foxtel’s streaming service Binge has relied heavily on content from HBO for its sustained growth since launching in 2020, with popular shows such as White Lotus, Succession, and The Last of Us. Binge was responsible for 11.9 per cent of all new Streaming Video on Demand subscriptions in the first quarter of this year, according to data from Kantar, with 18 per cent of all of its new user acquisitions driven by The Last of Us, its blockbuster nine-part series that debuted in January.
HBO’s House of the Dragon, a subscription driver for Binge, will continue production in the UK.Credit: Ollie Upton/HBO
Local players including Foxtel and Stan (owned by Nine) were approached for comment on the impact of their programming schedules.
One of the streamer’s largest subscription drivers in 2022, House of the Dragon, will continue filming in the UK, due to the show being largely comprised of British actors with contracts governed by the local union, Equity.
Paramount, which owns Network Ten and streaming service Paramount+, is understood to not be affected by the strikes. While it benefits from a constant stream of content from Paramount Studios, the local arm of the company has focused its efforts on Australian-produced content, which includes shows such as The Last King of the Cross, Five Bedrooms, and the recently green-lit series NCIS: Sydney, being produced locally by Endemol Shine.
Screen Producers Australia wants a 20 per cent levy on the streamers’ Australian revenue, while the streamers insist they are spending plenty already, with local TV networks in agreement.
In May, a submission by industry body Free TV, which represents Nine, Seven West Media and Network Ten, said it opposed the introduction of quotas for local productions, arguing the screen production industry in Australia is already booming.
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