A group of 20 prominent screen trade organizations have united to ask governments around the world to enact regulations ensuring that global streaming giants like Netflix and Disney+ invest more resources in local content. The joint plea — hailing from production bodies in Europe, Canada, Australasia and Latin America — comes as streaming services have scaled down on acquiring and commissioning local content across many markets within the last year in order to ramp up profitability.
“Together we represent thousands of screen industry businesses and share a commitment to securing regulation from our respective governments that will ensure that our industry continues to both be sustainable and maintains our nation’s cultural sovereignty,” the joint statement reads.
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The unprecedented statement is signed by a host of European production bodies, including the European Producers’ Club that represents top independent film and TV drama producers across continental Europe; Italy’s TV producers’ association APA; Spain’s Asociación de productoras de Cine Independiente; the Canadian Media Producers Association; the Ibero-American Federation of Film and Audiovisual Producers in Latin America; and the Screen Production and Development Association in New Zealand, among other orgs.
The principles outlined in the org’s joint statement cut to the core of the battle being waged in Europe to change the rules of engagement with streamers as countries implement the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS), which forces foreign streaming services to invest a portion of their revenue into local productions but leaves the modalities of this obligation to each individual country. France was the first country to set new rules and regulations as part of the AVMS. Since 2021, streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon and Disney+, have been required to invest between 20%-25% of their French revenues in French content.
Concurrent and related to this battle over content investment from streaming services is the concerted effort on the part of European producers to retain IP when an independent production company has acquired, created or co-developed that IP, even when the product is commissioned by a streamer. Concerns regarding streamers first raised by European producers and regulators are now being echoed and brought to the fore around a large swathe of the world.
The organizations also call for governments to recognize the importance of local stories and the companies telling them. By extension, governments should then address “market failure” and redress “any imbalance in commercial bargaining power” between independent producers and platforms.
The calls come at a time when streaming video services have uprooted traditional linear TV and have forced major entertainment corporations to refocus their businesses on direct-to-consumer services. Having achieved rapid growth in subscriber numbers during the pandemic period, many of those companies are now cutting back on content commissioning in order to achieve profitability. Nevertheless, the new dominance of multinational streaming giants is seen as a threat to local culture, local-language production and independent production companies in many countries.
Last year also saw screenwriters’ and actors’ guilds in North America engage in prolonged strikes and stoppages in order to secure, among other things, residual payments (or a ‘streaming participation bonus’) for their work when it is shown on streaming platforms.
“In Australia and many countries around the world, independent screen businesses are facing tough new market dynamics brought about by the global audience shift to digital streaming platforms. Our members have been telling us for some time that without intervention their financial viability and future existence cannot be taken for granted [..] Screen producers are increasingly unable to do business deals on fair terms with powerful digital platforms and therefore, cannot solve this problem on their own,” said Screen Producers Australia, CEO, Matthew Deaner.
“Our creative IP is what the screen industry produces. Ownership of it is the ‘value-add to our industry from making screen stories. It’s important that the screen IP created by Australians, stays in the hands of Australian businesses and is not lost to mostly global streaming platforms. Coming up with a successful character or storyline means a screen business has created a valuable economic asset that can be leveraged several ways including for sequels, adaptations and other marketing and merchandising opportunities,” Deaner added.
Australia has been debating for several years how – and which – streamers should be obliged to reinvest in local content and legislation is expected, possibly this year. SPA says the government needs to incorporate IP ownership protection into law as well.
Below is the full list of principles that the trade orgs would like to see guiding government regulation of giant global streamers:
Local content has both significant cultural and economic importance and is a strategic national asset.
Local audiences should have access to a broad range of new local stories across all the platforms they are using.
All platforms that derive financial benefit from conducting business in the local market should financially contribute, proportionally, to the creation of new local content for the benefit of local audiences.
To meet audience expectations, there is a need to maintain and support a healthy screen sector (development, production (including post-production), distribution), that delivers employment, economic activity, industry upskilling, exports, and growth opportunities.
Government has a role to address market failure and any imbalance in commercial bargaining power in the creation and delivery of quality new local screen content.
Independent screen businesses (SMEs) are critical to achieving this cultural and economic objective.
There is significant scope for growth in existing levels of production, investment, employment, commissioned content hours and exports, provided fit for purpose regulation, that protects local cultural assets, is in place.
Independent screen businesses should own and/or retain control of the intellectual property (IP), and rights in their work, including the right to financially participate in the success generated by their work on a platform, created as part of a nation’s own unique cultural heritage.
Any government regulated investment framework should specify that the majority of this investment should be fulfilled through projects where IP is under the control of independent screen businesses. This principle will assist businesses to remain strong and sustainable, thereby enhancing their capacity to invest in the development and production of new IP.
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