Keynote: Minister Sets the Scene for Children’s Content Review

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield
22 May 2017

I think we are all absolutely on the same page that having quality Australian content available on our televisions, in our cinemas and on the screens in our hands enriches our nation.

It strengthens our communities. It brings us closer together.

So ensuring access to high-quality Australian content must be, and is, an enduring Australian Government objective. And I think there are 3 reasons why this is an enduring Australian Government objective.

First and most fundamentally, Australian stories need to be told. People need to hear our stories, our perspectives, our ideas.

We have got a lot to share, and our stories and voices do matter. Our children need to understand the inherent uniqueness of our nation and the character and diversity of our people.

And Emma Rossi, when she was doing the vox pop with me, asked me what I thought when I think about Australian content. And the first word I said was childhood. Because of the things I saw on Australian screens that helped shape my view of what our nation is.

Fan favourite, Round The Twist

I think the second reason that this is an enduring and continuing Australian government commitment is that quality Australian content has an important place outside our borders. Our stories are sought out, they are relevant. There is a clear interest around the world in understanding our perspectives. Not only does it make economic sense to promote our content around the world; but never before, I would argue, has it been so important that our perspective is understood and heard around the world.

The third reason why this is an enduring government commitment is that we have a magnificent sector. Our creators are world class; our producers are cutting edge. Our policy settings need to ensure that we are building on our existing strengths. This is a sector that encourages innovation, imagination and continues to get international attention.

Across the Communication and the Arts portfolio, digitisation is presenting both opportunities and challenges for the industry and also for we in government and the agencies we have who determine policy.

We have heard a lot about the unprecedented change facing the industry. The actions that policy makers and regulators take now will have major consequences for the future direction of the industry.

Australian Government support allows all of us to enjoy uniquely Australian stories, encouraging us to reflect on who we are as a nation and to celebrate our vibrant identity.

In addition to entertaining us, Australian content keeps us informed of the stories that matter and helps to allow us to debate the important issues of the day.

Now we don’t, any one of us, want to imagine our children growing up without hearing Australian stories, told by Australians, about Australians.

Audiences are turning away from traditional, linear content models, in favour of on-demand streaming. Additionally, parents are expressing a preference for ‘walled garden’ or destination viewing for their children.

The ACMA’s 2015-16 Communications Report shows a steady decline in hours of free-to-air television watched in Australian homes, from over 93 hours viewed a month in 2014, down to approximately 85 hours viewed per month in 2016.

The data also indicates steady growth in the number of Australians viewing TV, film and other content online, from 51% of Australians in 2014 to 63% in 2016.

More than 2.2 million households now subscribe to Netflix. Australian services such as Stan are reaching significant audience numbers and are actively commissioning original and innovative content, such as the comedy series No Activity.

The flip side to this growth in online viewing is fragmented existing markets and putting pressure on business models.

Never before has competition for audiences and advertising revenue been so fierce. Local players are going up against other Australian media companies, local productions are competing against cheaper international content and global online operators are drawing audiences to whole new markets.

Advertising revenues for traditional broadcasters are in decline.

Despite these business pressures, in many ways, digital disruption has been a positive development. It brings with it more choice for consumers, who are enthusiastically embracing new platforms.

But in the face of this digital disruption, it has also become glaringly apparent that Australia’s content regulation and policy framework has some gaping holes.

The Australian Government wants to see Australian screen production and distribution businesses respond to the new environment – to not just adapt and survive but to thrive locally and globally by harnessing the digital opportunities.

We are trying to design a media regulatory framework that gives broadcasters the best chance of competing in the new multi-platform environment.

We are doing this because we believe a healthy, sustainable broadcasting industry is essential for a good healthy democracy, but also for the availability of quality Australian content.

Now all of you who are here today know that in addition to the package of media reform that was announced in the budget, we also indicated that there will be a comprehensive review of the Government’s support for Australian and children’s content.

This review, importantly, will be conducted jointly by the Department of Communications and the Arts, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and Screen Australia to leverage the expertise that there is in all three organisations.

The intent is clear it’s to establish the best means of supporting the creation of high-quality Australian content.

To cut to the chase, the way that we impose quotas, the nature of the expectations we put upon broadcasters, the way in which we foster original content, the incentive structures in place, were all fit for purpose at a time that is no longer with us.

The world has moved on.

What I am seeking from this review is an identification of a mix of regulation and incentives fit for a multi-platform, highly competitive digital era that will ensure that quality Australian and children’s content continues to be available for Australian and global audiences.

We want to make sure that these settings maximise audiences and allow growth and prosperity across platforms.

The Review represents a major opportunity for government, industry and the Parliament to ensure the ongoing availability of quality Australian and children’s content for ourselves, and for future audiences.

The review will start from the view that Government regulations and incentives for content production and distribution need to enable your industry to respond to the challenges and capitalise on future opportunities.

The Government is committed to policies that ensure the ongoing availability of everything that you believe in and want to achieve.

The terms of reference themselves will be available shortly and the objective is to have the review report to me with options by the end of the year.

This is an edited version of the Minister’s keynote address to the ACMA Conference – Australian Content Conversation, Tuesday 16 May 2017.  The full text of the address can be found here.


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