Australia at risk of missing out on the Netflix revolution
The lack of incentives offered by Australia to lure big spending streaming service companies like Netflix could leave the country behind in the revolution, industry members warn.
As the world's appetite for TV streaming services skyrockets, so does the potential for Australia's local film and television industry to benefit
Companies such as Netflix are not just buying content, they are looking to make their own original shows — often with big budgets and long shooting schedules
That could mean big bucks for local economies and big opportunities for local writers, directors and producers.
But the lack of incentives have led some in the Australian industry to urge the Federal Government to act quick.
Queensland has been building a reputation as the destination for big budget blockbusters.
Screen Queensland wants more productions on the scale of Marvel Studios' Thor: Ragnarok to grace Brisbane's streets and the Gold Coast's studios.
In a bid to make that happen the Federal Government recently announced a four-year $140 million boost to the location offset — a tax discount for filming in Australia — for foreign productions.
CEO of Screen Queensland Tracey Vieira said that was better than nothing, but two major projects could easily swallow that funding every 12 months.
She said streaming services have the money and the motivation to make big film projects happen locally, but she pointed out under the existing rules they could not access those generous location offsets.
"These productions don't want to bring a lot of people with them because that costs money," she said.
"It's much better to hire local people and use the skills and services in the country because that's a cost saving to them.
"But the benefit for us is that our practitioners can work on those high-quality productions."
'Time is running out'
Ms Vierira said Australian stories were gradually making their way into the video-on-demand world, mostly through Australian companies selling them Australian-made content.
But she argued that streaming behemoths like Netflix and their audience have a very particular taste.
"They want to make sure the content they're putting on their streaming services can compete with other things they're doing," she said.
"So Australian stories have to be of the quality of Big Little Lies or Orange is the New Black.
"Traditionally we haven't had content makers making that high quality television… equally if we want to bring foreign companies to Australia to make TV there's no incentive for them to come to Australia either."
The other issue, said Ms Vierira, was that Netflix had begun to move away from buying TV shows and films and towards making their own — and Australia needed to get on board.
"They will be a platform that has very little acquisitions in the end and what they're doing is they're learning from their data and their subscribers the kind of content they're looking for," she said.
"And so every year they're growing their original slate and doing less acquisitions.
"So it might work right now for Australian producers to make their content and on-sell it to Netflix, but that won't necessarily be there in a couple of years."
Ms Vieira said time was running out for Australia.
"When Amazon Prime hits, when Disney launches in 2019, Apple have hired incredible executives to develop their original slate and that content will hit us in Australia.
"CBS have already mentioned they'll bring their on demand to Australia following their takeover of Channel 10.
"We have to get into that market and we can't ignore it. I hope they're listening and I hope there will be a chance for us to get more of that work here in our country."
'We need an Aussie job quota'
Australian horror and science fiction screen writer, Catherine S McMulle, said Australian film and television creatives and their projects were building a presence in the United States.
Her script The Other Lamb was listed as one of the best unproduced scripts in the United States last year and has now been optioned by a major producer.
"Now I'm finding if I say Wentworth or Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, they're watching those shows and that's because they've been bought by Netflix or another streaming service," she said.
"Whether it's making films or TV, there's not that idea that the only way to make it in the US is to make a show set in America, starring Americans."
Ms McMullen said the location offset should be extended to video on demand companies such as Stan and Netflix — but she urged caution.
She said foreign companies getting tax discounts should be required to provide local jobs and opportunities for Australian creatives.
"If you just have better paying American jobs it will be like Canada in the sense that Vancouver's a production hub — it's where American shows shoot their stuff, it's not really developing the Canadian film industry," she said.
"If you come here and you film here and are using our tax dollars and our better exchange rate it has to be built in that our key creatives are also getting a chance to step up.
"If every head of department is shipped in from overseas none of our people are getting the chance to build their skill set and be able to play on a bigger world scale."
She said caveats like that were necessary to nurture Australian talent.
"People stick with what's easier and cheaper and will get their show made for less, and that's rarely mentoring people," she said.
"It's like gender quotas, for years it was like 'oh talent will rise through' but those stats haven't changed since the 70s so clearly that wasn't working.
"Gender Matters was the government stepping in and it's been very effective and already seen projects come out of it."
Aussie content 'doing well'
The first Australian original series for Netflix is already underway — a supernatural crime drama called Tidelands being filmed in Queensland.
Netflix has had big success with Australian shows it helped fund and then distribute.
The ABC's director of entertainment and specialist David Anderson said The Let Down, a comedy about motherhood, was taking off in the US.
"When we make great Australian content that reflects culture and community back to Australians, that's when we get high engagement and we saw that did quite well here in Australia," he said.
"What's interesting is that last week out of the Netflix top five programs [in the United States] for drama and comedy, The Let Down was number three."
Communication and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield declined an interview.
In a brief statement a spokesman for the minister said the Government's broader review of Australian and children's content was ongoing.
The spokesman said the review was focussed on examining the best ways to support the availability and production of high quality content in the modern media environment.