Australia’s federal government on Wednesday unveiled a package of financial relief measures intended to help the film and television industries weather the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. The measures have a cash value of $57.7 million (A$91 million).

Free-to-air TV and radio channels are to receive $26 million (A$41 million) of benefits as the government waives the annual fee for using spectrum. FTA channels and subscription -TV drama channels will also not have to meet the national quotas which specify minimum amounts of Australian drama, children’s and documentary content to be broadcast in 2020, though they will still be expected to meet the overall 55% local content quota.

Additionally, the federal government will pay for up to $31.7 million (A$50 million) of public interest journalism delivered by commercial television, newspaper and radio businesses in regional Australia, through a Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program. Of the total $8.50 million (A$13.4 million) is new money.

“Broadcasters and newspapers face significant financial pressure and COVID-19 has led to a sharp downturn in advertising revenue across the whole sector,” said Paul Fletcher, federal Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts. “We are acting to offer urgent short-term support to the media sector. At the same time, we are progressing our December 2019 commitment to consult on the future framework to support Australian stories on our screens.”

As part of the consultation process, the Australian Communications and Media Authority and federal film funding body Screen Australia issued a document offering different options. These are likely to be discussed until the end of the year.

“Regulated free-to-air broadcasters are competing with unregulated digital platforms and video streaming services. It has been evident for some time – and the COVID-19 crisis has made it even more obvious – that this is not sustainable,” said Fletcher. “These arrangements threaten the sustainability of television broadcasters – and in turn the sustainability of the film and television content production sector.”

“We need to re-emerge from COVID-19 with a regulatory framework suited to the twenty-first century that recognizes today’s competitive landscape,” said Fletcher.

The suspension of the drama quotas was contested by trade body, Screen Producers Australia. “These hard cuts have the potential to at worst cripple Australia’s production industry and at best snuff the opportunities for a rebound for much of our sector at a time when it is facing a very real battle for survival,” said the organization’s CEO Matthew Deaner.

But the stay-at-home orders that are in effect nationwide make it difficult for new productions at the moment.

“COVID-19 has effectively halted production of Australian screen content, making it impossible for free-to-air and subscription television businesses to meet Australian content obligations,” said Fletcher.

  • Singapore’s InfoComm Media Development Authority is to help companies and freelancers through projects, partnerships and training initiatives. These include commissioning $5.63 million (S$8 million) of public service content through MediaCorp, Viddsee, and newspapers to property group Singapore Press Holdings. Self-employed people and freelancers can get a grant of up to $2,110 (S$3,000) for training through the IMDA. Film exhibitors and distributors can apply to have their new and renewed licenses waived. Classification fees for film and video games are also to be waived until further notice. The IMDA will also accelerate its Capabilities Partnership Program, under which local companies team up with multinationals including WarnerMedia and Viacom to produce original regional content. IMDA says the CPP could benefit 80 to 100 Singaporean media companies over the next 12 months.