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Williams blasts Australian film and TV’s subsidy culture

‘Assisted industry’ and gov’t both woefully unprepared for all-digital 21st century

HONG KONG — Kim Williams, former head of Oz broadcaster Foxtel and publisher News Ltd., today lambasted Australia’s film and TV industries for their dependence on subsidy. And he shamed the federal government for its outdated policies, inadequate copyright laws and poor quality analysis of the issues facing the sector in the digital 21st century.

“The world is not changing — it has changed,” he said.

Williams, who was also previously the inaugural chairman of the Film Finance Corporation and a head of the Australian Film Commission, was giving the keynote Hector Crawford lecture in Melbourne at ‘Screen Forever,’ the annual conference organized by Screen Producers Australia. The trade association this week rebranded itself from Screen Producers’ Association of Australia.

“That cycle of review and change will be with you… as long as there is a dependence on regulatory obligations by broadcasters… and subsidies… for development, production, marketing and so forth. It is the norm in the rural economy …and the motor vehicle industry,” he said. “Film and television has operated in the modern era as an assisted industry.”

But, said Williams, “it has been a long time since there was a meaningful wholesale review of the policy and commercial settings on that which comprises the film and television landscape. I don’t think serious wholesale review was provided by the Convergence Review, which ignored almost everything of policy, cultural or commercial ecology importance; nor the pathetic media proposals in response from March of this year.”

Quoting a recent report from Morgan Stanley and technology firm Cisco, Williams said “in an era where the settings change daily and where ‘the internet of things’ will see over 75 billion connected devices by 2020, that it is an immediate necessity such a considered review takes place to recalibrate for the 21st Century.”

But policy he said was frozen. Describing a “cryogenic list,” Williams said: “Our broadcasting act is essentially 20 years old [and] consistent with the priorities when first enacted in the early 1990s… the Convergence Review … avoided almost all the relevant issues…in blind disregard to the obligation to be technology neutral and consumer focused.”

“Our copyright laws are woefully inadequate and out of date. They are unequal to the task in confronting piracy and defending the absolute rights of producers to defend and exploit their work in a country where over 50% of all video material consumed is stolen.”

Both recipients and government are hooked on current subsidy culture. “Financial assistance is still very much based on a notion of delivered subsidy. It is centered on the inevitably of loss rather than tackling new approaches.”

While Williams said that film, TV and radio have played an “unusually important” role in shaping the “Australian national personality” he said it was time for a shake-up.

“Let’s start by putting consumer front and center. Demand side policy orientation will usually produce better outcomes than supply support for its own sake.”

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