Opinion: Market Failure and the Public Good in the Australian Film and Television Industry

Australia has had some great success and failures come out of the Australian film and television industry. The ‘boom and bust’ era in the 1970’s and 1980’s occurred due to the Government regulations and taxable rebates that they offered producers to help them produce Australian media and continue to produce for Australian audiences. The 10BA tax rebate saw the production subsidy go from 150% in the early 1980’s to 133% and again dropping to 100% in the late 1980’s. This contributed to market failures in the industry and respective audiences as well as political figures questioning the public good of the art that was being produced versus the policies that were put into place throughout the boom and bust era.

In many the ways the market was a success and a failure which can be seen through particular film investments that successfully met their returns in the box office, locally and/or internationally. The 10BA tax rebate that provided producers with a government subsidy proved the unprecedented boom in the industry. An “improved financial infrastructure for screen production [meant that there was a] high risk and low profitability of Australian screen production” (Burns and Eltham, 2010). For this reason, I believe that due to the investment into the industry and the generous rebate that the government was providing, many people joined the industry creating home films at an extremely low quality. Burns and Eltham (2010), support my views by stating “low production and marketing budgets, distribution bottlenecks, and the poor investment decisions of the monopolistic screen funding agencies… created unpopular Australian cinema… [and] low artistic standards”. In 1988 to 2008, there was a negative 80% return on investments into the film and television industry with the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) investing $1.345 billion into 1,165 different film and television productions with a total return of $274 million (Burns and Eltham, 2010). Successful Australian films that contributed to the $274 million return are Crocodile Dundee (1986), Strictly Ballroom (1992), Mad Max (1979), and Wolf Creek (2005). I believe that if the government was not so relaxed in handing out the rebates to producers, and that they had a more controlled and monitored system, less productions would have been produced and we could have put more focus into successful productions which could have possibly reached the international market. In saying that, some of the home videos that were created were successful. The majority however, were not, creating a stigma and bad reputation for the Australian film and television industry. Errington and Miragliotta (2012), supports my claim by stating ‘broadcasters [producers] are crowding out the market… and the market will struggle to deliver [quality]’. With the boom in the film industry it provided a ‘limitless choice to consumers but the quality of the choices on offer was questionable’ (Errington and Miragliotta, 2012). I strongly agree with this statement due to the fact that not all productions that were produced during the rebate boom era were of great quality and is evident through the above financial statistics with a negative 80% return on government investments in the box office.

I believe that the Australian television industry has been more successful in terms of creating a market and engaging audiences. Successful television such as McLeod’s Daughters, A Place to Call Home, All Saints, Janet King, Blue Heelers, Sea Patrol and The Wrong Girl have had audiences fall in love with their characters and their lives, even years after some have stopped being shown on our home screens. These television shows portrayed Australia in their own way, from the outback farming life, to the suburban and city lifestyles, all of which were unique. Burns and Eltham (2010), state that “tourism and related industries also experienced flow-on growth… as Hollywood producers took advantage of Australian locations”. Just recently (2017), McLeod’s Daughters reunited at ‘Drover’s Run’ in the Barossa Valley in South Australia and took to the Today Show to say how great it was to have the cast at the reunion together, particularly with their fans.  Zoe Naylor (Regan McLeod) said “what I find amazing is that 10 years on, it (the show) has still got a life [in the audience]”. The Australian government has slowly come to terms with the success within the television industry. ‘Australian creatives and funding bodies have no doubt realised that they can no longer ignore this trend’ (Dunks G, n.d.). The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts awards (AACTA Awards), as well as the Logies, are proof of the trends that the television industry in Australia is a successful one.

The Australian media industry, specifically film and television, has been debated throughout the years because of the “lack of audience appeal, due to the impoverished ‘domestic culture’” (Burns and Eltham, 2010). The debate between policy and creative art is an interesting one that has evidence on both sides of the argument. On one side, the policies in place for the media industry are great and have allowed for so many productions to be produced, and on the other hand there is the argument of whether or not every production that had been supported by the debate was worth supporting and calling art. I personally think that the policy allowed more creative directors and producers to showcase their works, but I also believe that the government should have been more strict with their 10BA rebate scheme as ‘anything’ can be classified as art, and some productions were not. The low quality in some films struggled to attract local audiences and the government contracted the rebate scheme (Burns and Eltham 2010). While the government questioned the art that was being produced in the Australian film industry, they still supported television and ensured the ‘protections of Australian content’ (Errington and Miragliotta 2012). In 2010, the government announced a $152 million funding to finance children’s television. This ensured producers and the public that all audiences have access to quality television as it has become increasingly important in recent years. I strongly agree with the funding that the government provides to Australian producers and broadcasting agencies although I strongly suggest that the government monitors where and how money is being used in the film and television industry to ensure that it will engage audiences and make box office hits. Thanks to Screen Australia, funding is now selective due to their “Significant Australian Content” review process. Previously it was “difficult to evaluate on the basis of cultural value” whether or not funding was appropriate for some of the productions produced (Ryan M, Goldsmith B, 2017). While the huge production of film and television developed internationally, some productions mislead our Australian culture. Some producers produced art that exploited the Australian culture which “reflects an American perspective of Australia”. This marketed Australia to others as a tourist destination instead of respecting Australia’s national identity. I don’t agree with misleading information, especially when it involves Australian history. The basis of art should respect the level of “quality film and the filmic expression of an Australian reality” (Thomas D, n.d). Genre films or Ozploitation films were classified as ‘alternate’ masterpieces of Australian cinema (Thomas D, n.d). Australian film and television can be seen as contributors to the ‘global exploitation’ industry that created a “construct around our differences in terms of landscape and socio-cultural identity” (Thomas D, n.d). Films of the Ozploitation era were cringe worthy and ‘trashy’ although they have become more widely accepted. I accept that Ozploitation films have become widely accepted that they are ‘so bad that they are good’.

Overall, I do not believe that the Australian film and television has been unsuccessful in the market. While it has not been as successful as Hollywood, I do not wish to compare it to Hollywood as the Australian film and television industry is its own unique industry that has had some great successes. While I do not agree with the 10BA tax rebate discussed, and the rebate rate being so high, it contributed to the boom in the film industry which created some great quality films (and not so great quality) that are still being recognised today. For this reason, I believe that Australia has a great and extremely talented film industry and it is not just for the public good of Australia. Hence, I find it most important that the government has profitable policies that support film makers, directors, producers, actors and actresses so that they can produce art as we know it.

 

References:

Burns, A and Eltham, B 2010, “Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: 10BA, The Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘Race to the bottom’”, Media International Australia, no. 136, pp. 103 – 115.

Errington, W and Miragliotta, N 2012, “The rise and fall and rise again of public broadcasting? The case of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation”, The Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 71, no. 1, pp. 55 – 64.

Hartley M, 2008, “Not quite Hollywood” film.

Ryan, D and Goldsmith, B 2017, “Returning to Australian Horror film and Ozploitation cinema debate”, Studies in Australasian Cinema, Vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 2 – 4.

Thomas, D n.d., “Tarantino’s two thumbs up: Ozploitation and the reframing of the Aussie Genre Film”, Metro Magazine; Metro Feature Section, pp. 90 – 94.

Dunks, G n.d., “Genre is big business on the small screen”, Metro Magazine; Scope and Screen Industry Views, pp. 124.

 

 

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