Last week we looked at the progress of the Convergence Review Committee so far.
In my view, the most important outcome for Australian screen content creators from this review will be recommendations about levels of local content on web-based platforms.
The key question is whether the sort of content quotas that apply in radio and television (and are seen as vital to the continued success of local production industry) can apply to the new distribution platforms.
For example, will they recommend that platforms such as Fairfax TV, Telstra Big Pond Movies Online, FetchTV and any other current or future online aggregator be subject to Australian content quotas?
The Old Ways - over?
At first glance, it doesn't seem impossible that some sort of mandatory or self-regulated content quota could be applied to Australian aggregators. Let's imagine that legislation was put in place that required all Australian registered aggregators to have a minimum level of Australian content (let's say 20% to make it meaningful) available to their customers. Note - this is not to say that 20% of the content they delivered had to be Australian - just that it was available top customers.
For some of the existing players, Telstra Big Pond movies or iTunes Australia, for example, this would be a bit of an ask. For the soon-to-be online Quickflix, less so.
You can imagine the Telstra's of the world doing some kind of deal with an Australian- only aggregator to bring their content levels up to scratch rather than expand their own content libraries, but however they do it, the net result would be a guaranteed minimum level of Australian content available to consumers.
Once the aggregators had their content levels in place, the administrative cost of compliance wouldn't be great.
What are the odds on quotas?
Well, the tide turned against quotas some time ago. If you were a betting person, you would say that the odds were against a re-invention of them for the new platforms.
What will happen in the new unregulated environment, particularly post NBN, when unbundled, search driven content is consumed more frequently?
What non-quota proposals are floating around?
Flood the NBN.
They have already been some non-quota proposals, most notably from the Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI).
Here's one of their recommendations
With a view to encouraging the development of innovative online services, we recommend for consideration an Australian content innovation fund, to be created to incentivise Australian content on new platforms...
Online aggregators and distributors could apply for funding to assist in buying rights to, profiling, and curating Australian content.
Existing players such as Fetch TV, Telsta TBox, iTunes, Caspa-on-Demand, and potential new players like BBC iPlayer and Hulu would be eligible to access the fund.
This idea has some currency - its becoming known as the NBN Fund.
Linking funds like this to Stephen Conroy's pet project could make get the government some votes from the creative community in the run-up to the next election. If the government decided to carve off less than 0.2% of the money spent on the NBN infrastructure, it could double the amount of support currently available to producers of Australian content.
Here is another suggestion from CCI.
A portion of the licence fees paid to government by broadcasting service licensees could be made available for Australian content production for commercial TV and radio..... If, as some commentators have suggested, the commercial free-to-air licence holders will lobby in their submissions to the Convergence Review for a permanent reduction in fees, and if this is entertained as a serious possibility by policymakers, we recommend that such a reduction be conditional on further support for Australian content.
What they're saying here is let's look for leveraged points to coerce the FTAs into something like Canada's Bell fund - a recurring levy on broadcasters that's put directly into innovative content. My only question is - why restrict the delivery platform to TV and radio?
Pay New Curators.
This one is self-evident. Create The Australian Content Aggregator with government support. With everything we've ever done. In every form – long form, short form, games, the whole bundle. After all most local content is created with our tax dollars and yet only a small fraction is available online.
Again this is an idea that's been kicking around for a while now and the players who tried to get it going without substantial backing have run into issues such as the ability to buy rights to the content they want. That's not to say that they couldn't get the rights, just that they couldn't afford them.
A substantially funded Australia Channel could start to curate whatever was available now, and progressively add more content as rights to whatever they couldn't get became available. And they will become available as existing distribution agreements expire.
A levy on ISPs.
It's been suggested that ISPs could have a traffic levy imposed on all screen content downloads with the proceeds being disbursed amongst copyright holders. Much as the APRA levy works for Australian composers. This would have the dual effect of "legalising" unpaid downloads and providing a pooled fund for Australian screen content creators.
Here's one from a lateral-thinking MediaWave reader. Make all Australian taxpayer funded content on the new platforms free to download and clip the ticket on all paid, non-Australian content downloads. All proceeds would be disbursed to copyright holders.
I like the idea that this would let us see what we have already paid for as well as generating funds for new production. I can imagine the Telstras of this world not liking an idea like this one bit, so it would take large amount of political will to get it done
Still, I suppose on the scale of the Government's reform agenda which includes little things like the Carbon and the Resources taxes, this would be a minor blip.
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