Do FTAs and Netflix leave Australian content for dead?

“The loss for Australia’s digitally networked culture industries in the face of what appears to be inevitable one­ way digital traffic reflects the continuation of the global dominance of US culture industries and communications in general.”

Breen 2010, p. 671

Thanks to globalisation, Americanisation has long permeated just about every aspect of Australian culture. We have Starbucks, we have Sephora and we share the Hemsworth brothers. The close ties between Australia and the US were brought even closer in 2005 when a Free Trade Agreement was passed between the two nations, reflecting a commitment to removing trade barriers and advocating free market integration (Breen 2010, p. 657-658). However, this brought with it some unforeseen consequences for Australian media content and a favouring of global cultural diversity over local content.

australia-usa-625

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This FTA introduced a multitude of complex policy considerations, such as Intellectual Property Rights which made Australia’s job of enhancing its culture very difficult when facing the dominating US (Breen 2010). Consequently our home-grown entertainment industry has become overwhelmed by Americanisation (Guild 2004) due to conditions of the FTA stipulating “no national interests or ‘discriminatory treatment’ could push against the tide of US based electronic communications” (Breen 2010, p. 669) and the pre-existing domination of one treaty partner over the other (Breen 2010, p. 660)

A decade on and our movie and television screens are very much telling the American story. In 2013 alone, the US had 183 first-release films in Australia, compared to 44 from the UK and a mere 26 that were home grown (Kaufman 2009). I’m hearing a lot more “USA! USA!” than “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi”.

Although this disproportionate representation of culture is often attributed to failure of local films, the issue runs much deeper. The distribution and exhibition of Australian films locally is appalling. Budgets for marketing and advertising are tiny, paling in comparison to those awarded to US films (Aveyard 2009, p. 38) which makes it difficult to appeal to a potential audience. Furthermore, the leading cinema chains (like Hoyts) often pre-book majority of their screens annually to ensure a constant supply. According to Aveyard (2009, p. 40), this practice “significantly reduces the number of screens available for Australian films, which are a lower priority for most exhibitors” as Hollywood films promise a greater turn out and profit. Australian films, in the current media landscape, are often not even given a chance.

Man looking confused picking Australia as the USA

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This permeation runs straight through the television industry as well. A prime example of this is the recent introduction of Netflix to Australian homes. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (2015), Netflix already has over a million subscribers in Australia with the local alternative Stan having only reached about half of this. This is great for audience members who don’t or can’t download US projects, or who don’t have Foxtel. Netflix is essentially an ‘all you can eat’ streaming package for as little as $8.99 a month (Mullins 2015). However, the popularity of Netflix may result in fewer peopling watching TV, lower TV ratings and less money to fund Australian television (Kidman 2014) which could mean an “end to the telling of Australian stories, as out screens become increasingly flooded with overseas content” (Mullins 2015).

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It seems we have become stuck in a vicious cycle. Policy supports US productions, which means they are more widely available than local content and thus more popular. This gives the impression of a failed local industry, when in reality Australia favours global diversity over out own content.

References

Aveyard, K 2011, ‘Australian Films at the cinema: rethinking the role of distribution and exhibition’, Media International Australia, no. 138, pp. 36-45

Breen, M 2010, ‘Digital determinism: cultural industries in the USA-Australia Free Trade Agreement’, New Media & Society, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 657-676

Daily Telegraph 2015, ‘Netflix hits 1 million subscribers in Australia’, Daily Telegraph, 13 November, viewed 20 January 2016, < http://www.smh.com.au/business/world-business/netflix-hits-1-million-subscribers-in-australia-20151113-gkygsj.html>

Guild, A 2004, ‘The Americanisation of Australian Culture, Discussing the cultural influence of the USA upon our nation’s way of life’, Ironbark Resources, viewed 20 January 2016, < http://www.ironbarkresources.com/articles/guild2004americanisation.htm>

Kaufman, T 2009, ‘Finding Australian audiences for Australian films’, Metro, 1 December, pp. 6-8

Kidman, A 2014, ‘How Netflix Will Help Destroy Australian Drama’, lifehacker, 19 November, viewed 20 January, < http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/11/how-netflix-will-help-destroy-australian-drama/>

Mullins, M 2015, ‘Netflix and Fairfax in an uncaring new media environment’, Eureka Street, 31 March, pp. 12-13

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