Producers challenge Screen Australia to fund ‘loophole’

Producers challenge Screen Australia to fund ‘loophole’

Independent producers question whether Screen Australia is breaking its own rules by funding international broadcasters the BBC and NBCU.

Under Screen Australia’s terms of exchange, funding cannot be awarded to projects by a broadcaster, a subsidiary of a broadcaster or a company owned or co-owned by a broadcaster.

Questions were raised in the room at the recent Screen Forever conference as BBC Studios operate Pay TV channels in Australia including BBC First, CBeebies, BBC Earth, BBC World News and UKTV as well as BBC Brit and BBC Kids on Fetch. BBC Studios ANZ also produces light and unscripted entertainment and is moving into drama production.

NBCUniversal owns, operates Universal TV, DreamWorks, CNBC and MSNBC, and NBC News Now on the Flash news streaming platform. It also wholly owns Matchbox Pictures, which was founded as an independent production company in 2008 before being bought out in 2014.

Thirty-eight high-profile independent producers raised concerns with Screen Australia in 2018.

Nick Murray, co-founder and CEO of CJZ (Gruen, Bondi Rescue, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, My Life is Murder) recently wrote back to Screen Australia on the matter.

“The problem arises not because of the activities of the BBC itself (as one of the largest broadcasters in the world) but because BBC Studios provides at least four pay-TV channels for broadcasting in Australia. It is an Australian broadcaster,” she wrote.

“BBC Studios are classified as a ‘channel provider’ under … the Broadcasting Services Act,” Murray argued in his statement. “(However) Screen Australia’s absurd interpretation of its terms of business means that a broadcaster operating multiple TV channels on Foxtel is not considered a broadcaster.”

A spokesperson for the BBC in Australia said: ‘We are not considered a broadcaster in Australia under the Broadcasting Services Act. We do not hold a broadcasting license and do not operate any broadcasting facilities. Foxtel and Fetch are the broadcasters in Australia.

The spokesperson further confirmed, “We recently received confirmation that our funding application for an unscheduled project for SBS has been successful. The project has yet to be announced.”

According to the Broadcasting Services Act, a “broadcasting service” means a service which supplies television programs or radio programs to persons who have adequate equipment to receive such a service, whether or not the supply uses the radio frequency spectrum, the cable, optical fiber, satellite or any other medium or a combination thereof”.

A channel provider in subscription TV is a drama service provided by a licensee, which packages a channel (which may include programs produced by the licensee).

Demand is likely to be amplified with streamers such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, BBC/ITV-owned BritBox and NBCU-owned Hayu, currently not considered broadcasters, placing the burden on Communications Minister Michelle Rowland to redefine industry terms as part of a regulation review.

An ACMA spokesman said TV tonight, “BBC Worldwide Australia and NBC Universal International Networks are subscription television channel providers (providing channels to broadcast licensees, such as Foxtel). Neither BritBox nor Hayu are considered broadcast services.

Nick Murray believes Screen Australia needs to fill a “loophole” in its trading terms.

“This continues to be of great interest to the truly independent production sector. We are already at a disadvantage compared to large vertically integrated multinationals, with no funding for actual local productions put out of action by broadcasters”.

A Screen Australia spokesperson said the agency “did not breach its terms of business”. They added that they received the new introduction from Murray.

“As with any industry inquiry, we are evaluating the merits and will respond in due course.”

Source: The age