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Why Netflix will suffer if law comes into play demanding more Australian content

According to finance media reports, the Liberal Government is looking to impose regulations on Netflix, YouTube and other streaming services, forcing them to increase their amounts of Australian-produced content by the end of this year. But it’s not as pretty a picture as it sounds.

While free-to-air television (ie: Channels Ten, Nine and Seven, and the ABC) are subject to the rule that 55% of their content must be Australian-produced, there is no such standing in the unregulated stream TV market.

Radio in this country has the same general rule as free-to-air TV but then locally made independent music that comes out of Australia is actually very good. Local television generally isn’t.

Australia does not make great TV. Australia makes decent TV sometimes. But even when our homemade television is based on fact, it’s still comparatively boring.

While the government may be pushing for a lower local content quota for stream platforms, any such requirement, really, would cause the likes of Netflix to lose tens of thousands of viewers due to a sort of ‘forced curation’ that the brand is not used to. Put it this way, if you’re a regular Netflix viewer you’re going to be seen a lot boring Aussie war bios in the Documentary section and shows closer to the naff aesthetic of Home & Away than the broader global look of, say, Black Mirror, Orange Is The New Black, Ozark or Dark.

‘Dark’, one of the many unique, internationally produced series available to stream on Netflix.

 

Currently, Netflix has the comfortable option of picking programs that “speak” to its micro markets rather than force-feeding a mass audience with middle-of-the-road content. And, despite being an American-born company, Netflix is doing a pretty good job at including a healthy number of international series, such as 3% (Brazil), Babylon Berlin (Germany), Suburra (Italy), Hibana (Japan), Occupied (Norway), and Money Heist and Cable Girls (both from Spain).

Still, the company lacks a knack for picking quality Australian content. Just look at the comical disaster that was Chris Lilley’s Lunatics which had a lot of money thrown at it and was hyped to the Nth degree but failed to deliver laughs like Lilley’s previous four self-managed series.

Even a minimal quota of local content, something like 30% (which is what European nations are demanding of international streaming companies) would pose a problem for Netflix and the threat of losing audience devotion.

Simply put, Australia does not make great TV.

Australia makes decent TV sometimes; cases in point: Wentworth (a spin-off of classic drama Prisoner), Kath & Kim (the original admittedly better than its tragic American offshoot), and No Activity (the original too raw to compare to its polished U.S. version).

Even when our homemade television is based on fact, it’s still comparatively boring. Biopics like Molly, Carlotta and Howzat! (Kerry Packer’s War) leave out the truer, juicier bits, leaving you wondering why the subjects’ lives were written up about in the first place, while our so-called “reality TV” reeks of dumbed-down, scripted bullshit.

The only disadvantages [the old-school] networks have is that their ethos is stuck in 1971 and that they just don’t get what audiences want today, that being unique stories presented in a fantastical, if not less hackneyed, way.

Think about it. When did you ever really crave watching the next episode of Offspring? Could you re-watch a mini-series about colonial convicts as easily as you could re-binge The Ted Bundy Tapes? And besides the highly saturated drama of MAFS and Masterchef (both on-screen and off), could you honestly say that a lot of your favourite telly is Australian-made?

Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told media this week that streaming services such as Netflix or YouTube are “capturing a huge number of eyeballs in the Australian market” along with a large chunk of revenue – a supposed ‘disadvantage’ for traditional media companies like Nine, Ten, et al).

I call bullshit on that. The only disadvantages those networks have is that their ethos is stuck in 1971 and that they just don’t get what audiences want today, this being unique stories presented in a fantastical, if not less hackneyed, way.

Fletcher, along with Treasurer Josh Frydenber, also said that other digital platforms such as YouTube, Google and even Facebook, ought to be held to the same laws and regulations that traditional media companies have to abide by.

My guess is that, while stream TV starts to outstrip traditional models, Fletcher and his Liberal party are having their mitts greased by those same traditional media players who continue to bring you trivial, generic, and often tedious, fodder to view on your “free-to-air” TV. And by the way, that’s “free to air” but riddled with terrible adverts.

Netflix appeals to a broader, smarter audience; folks who get that freakish scene in ‘Fargo’, that spooky sub-plot in ‘Ozark’, or the odd goings-on in ‘Stranger Things’.

I say keep Netflix at the unique level that it’s at. It isn’t the same sort of service as traditional TV, which has always created content to be consumed in one direction – that is, from the fat man (and his tasteless ad execs) to the numbed, dumbed-down hordes. Netflix, instead, appeals to a broader, smarter audience with the option to choose what they want to watch, where, when, and at what pace. It’s an umbrella info- and entertainment- brand that offers a greater variety to its micro markets who like to discover new shows they can relate to; folks who get that freakish scene in Fargo, the spooky sub-plots in Ozark, or the odd goings-on in Stranger Things.

Replace all that brilliant content with stock-standard ocker-dictated fodder… and you’re only watching some old man’s version of television, really.

Antonino Tati

 

Netflix doodle by artist David Schwen available to view on Flickr.

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