Streamers Labelled “Super-Trawlers” As Australian Producers Survey Reveals Frustration With Deals

Australia’s producers have called out streamers for offering “unfair” commissioning deals with “unrealistic” budgets, a study has revealed.

Screen Producers Australia’s second Commissioning Survey revealed streamers ranked the lowest in overall deal fairness across the industry.

The streamers, who have been closely assessing their work in Australia amid government plans to introduce content quotas, ranked below industry average in seven of nine categories and went backwards year-on-year in six.

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SPA CEO Matthew Deaner claimed many of their business practices were akin in “fishing ‘super-trawlers,’” and were potentially “permanently damaging our screen ecosystem.”

The news comes despite the launch of high profile streamer series such as Paramount+’s well-received The Last King of the Cross and Netflix’s Heartbreak High reboot. Disney+, Prime Video and Apple TV+ are also active in the country, along with the local streamers.

The SPA survey revealed a dramatic slump in the perception streamer deals are fair, with last year’s 74% who agree they were falling to 40% when overall budgets, deliverables, terms of trade and rights retention were considered.

Free-to-air channels such as the ABC are still considered those that offer the least appropriate budgets to match expectations, but streamers dropped an alarming 24% to 65% satisfaction.

More than a third (36%) of producers reported they “had to agree to unfavorable variations to an existing deal” to a streaming deal “with no material benefits.” That’s a volte-face from the first survey last year, when only 19% said the same about streamers, which made them market leaders.

At an overall industry level, three issues emerged: overall fairness of deals, which worsened; administrative complexities and lack of responsiveness and communication, both of which improved on 2022’s survey.

“Many of the streaming platforms business practices are comparable to fishing ‘super-trawlers’ with nets trawling our screen industry scooping up rights to our nation’s stories for at best, incredibly long lengths of time — at worst, in perpetuity — and often, when they don’t intend to use them,” said SPA CEO Matthew Deaner.

“This denies our SMEs and creatives the use and financial benefits of their own ideas in an ongoing way, which in turn reduces the capacity they have to generate and develop their next ideas – thereby permanently damaging our screen ecosystem.”

Australia’s production business has been experiencing a boom but has been hit by the impact of the writers and actors strikes. As we revealed earlier this year, Universal Content Productions’ big-budget Metropolis remake for Apple TV+, which was due to shoot in the country, was shelved due to the WGA action and rising costs, while the likes of feature sequel Mortal Kombat 2 and Peacock’s Apples Never Fall are among a number of projects that have downed tools following the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

The streamers’ future investment will be significantly impacted by the introduction of quotas. The plans to impose them were included in the Australian government’s ‘Revive’ National Cultural Policy easier this year, though there has not been confirmation on the level of the levy. The quotas will come into effect on July 1, 2024, with negotiations between government, the TV and film industries and streamers continuing.

“Our screen industry is holding its breath to see whether the Australian government will stand up for Australian audiences and its storytellers in the screen industry by introducing a 20% reinvestment obligation on streamers with strong protections for intellectual property such as a reversion of rights to creators to ensure that we continue to foster a sustainable and vibrant screen sector in Australia for the benefit of our industry and audiences alike,” said Deaner.

In total, 16 linear and streaming groups were ranked by 110 small-to-medium-sized producers that worked with streaming services between 2020 and 2022. Where not enough data was gathered on a specific service, it was excluded to ensure balance and fairness.

They comprise streamers Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Binge, Disney+, Netflix, Paramount+ and Stan, Public networks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS, including National Indigenous TelevisionNITV), and commercial free-to-airs Seven, Nine and Ten. Subscription TV services included those of the BBC, Discovery, Foxtel and Paramount Global (described in the survey as ViacomCBS).

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