Australians love Kath & Kim and Gruen but industry experts warn the next big Aussie television hit is in danger of never being made.
Streaming networks flooding into the country have no requirement to show Australian content, but they compete with local networks employing thousands of people.
Industry heavyweights warn Australian talent will disappear overseas and streaming networks will be flooded with cheap, foreign TV shows unless changes are made.
It comes as the ABC – the incubator for some of Australia’s most successful comedies and dramas – handles significant budget cuts to light entertainment.
“It’s not a level playing field at the moment, because the networks have to commission a percentage of local content and the streaming services don’t,” Nick Murray, managing director of production company CJZ, told AAP.
But those overseas streaming networks – including Netflix, Amazon, YouTube Premium and the forthcoming Disney+ and WarnerMedia services – are pulling in strong subscriptions from Australians while heavily using the publicly-funded NBN.
Kevin Whyte – whose companies produce shows like Please Like Me, Hard Quiz and Rosehaven – said talented Australians will go overseas if changes aren’t made.
“(We’re) absolutely seeing it now,” he told AAP.
“Australians are really good at making television shows. It’s not just the industry, it’s also the fact that our country is bloody good at this stuff and our people get lured away.
“We could be creating world-beating programs written by Australians, produced by Australian hands, and sold to the world and the profits and success of that could come back and be reinvested here.”
Under current rules, free-to-air networks have to show 55 per cent Australian content from 6am to midnight.
Pay TV networks like Foxtel have to calculate what they spend on foreign dramas and spend 10 per cent of that figure on Australian-produced dramas.
That’s the model the industry feels can work with streaming networks, with Canada already putting similar rules in place.
“There needs to be an enforceable quota system for streaming services,” Mr Murray said.
“Most of the industry is in lock step on that particular position and we wouldn’t be the only country in the world doing it.”
Roy Morgan Research estimates more than 11 million Australians have access to Netflix, which recently opened its Australian office in a co-working space in Sydney.
The other issue is the ABC, which is facing more cuts.
“What everyone misses is that money isn’t coming out of news and current affairs and the areas that annoy the coalition politicians,” Mr Murray said.
“Those cuts that are already biting now are coming out of the high-rating shopfront areas of the ABC, which include their light entertainment and factual slate.
“We make Gruen … the ABC doesn’t have enough resources to commission other shows like that at the moment.
“The ABC’s entertainment and factual budget would be less than the budget of MasterChef.”
Mr Whyte said the ABC was crucial to the film and television industry, which employs tens of thousands of people.
“I think the screen industry is going to be screwed if the funding cuts continue the way they are,” he said.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher was unavailable for an interview but his office responded to questions about content streaming regulations and the ABC.
“The government will continue to explore options to provide Australian audiences with ongoing access to stories that reflect a sense of Australian identity, character and cultural diversity on a wide range of platforms, including (streaming video on demand) services,” he said in a statement.
He said the ABC would get $3.2 billion in funding over the next three years, including $43.7 million to support local news and current affairs.