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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TV history & traditions will never change

I remember waking up 6am every Saturday and Sunday morning, racing to wake up my sister if she wasn’t already awake and running to the TV to watch the latest Saturday Disney cartoons or Pokémon. That disappointment you would feel when you were just those 3 impatient minutes early for the show to start. The attempt to make your breakfast in time without spilling it or waking up mum or dad in the process was defiantly a challenge.

A reoccurring conversation around my dinner table lately has been mum and dad reflecting on the moment that man took their first steps on the moon in 1969.

When I am with my children around the dinner table, I think I will reflect back on the 2000 Olympics when Kathy Freeman took the torch all the way up to start the ceremony. I remember sitting in front of the TV saying to mum, ‘why is she standing on a big barbeque’. That will be the happy story, to reflect on; I still remember mum laughing and running off to tell dad what I said. I still remember and often reflect on the 9/11 situation also. I was up early, mum had the TV on, and volume and lights woke me up from down the hall. I went and crawled into bed with mum and dad came and kissed us goodbye as he went to work. I remember looking at the TV squinting from the bright light on September 11, 2001, and seeing a small spec in the air crash into the two towers in New York City and the buildings just crumbling to the ground with panic on the streets everywhere. This is also a time of reflection for me as I am in America at the moment. I went to visit the Ground Zero area where the tragedy took place and it completely moved me. They have turned the area into a beautiful place of reflection for all of the victims that were lost in the attack. The water falls into the ground that run all day, the names around the edges of each of the buildings outline of where the buildings once stood tall. People move slowly, they don’t talk, and if they do, it’s respectful whisper. Still having the image on the dark room, the feeling of the warm bed and mums cuddles in the morning, the noise of the TV’s news presenter explaining the tragedy and showing footage of the disaster still plays in my head 15 years on and will continue to be fresh in my mind until the day I die.

When I spoke to my grandma from my dad’s side of the family about her history with the television, it surprised me. I knew that they came from a lower socio-economic background fleeing the war which influenced her television history.

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My Grandparents and family on the boat saying goodbye to The Netherlands and Hello to Australia.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s my grandparents got their first TV which was black and white. They lived in the middle of no-where,so it would not surprise me if they had poor connection. She explained that the lifestyle changed in the household as well when the TV was introduced. Things like watching the Sunday night football and having to have had dinner and washed up by 6pm so they could all watch together. My grandpa had the most control over the TV, but when he fell asleep, Grandma would kindly turn down the volume and change the channel to what she wanted to watch. If visitors were to come over, the TV would go off as it was considered polite. Her most memorable televised event in history was the shooting of JF Kennedy in 1963 and the walking on the moon in 1969. Both of my grandparents worked during the day, so they didn’t watch anything until all the cooking and cleaning had been completed. Sunday night football was a must in my dad’s household growing up; other shows they watched were Get Smart, The Andy Griffith Show, Rawhide, Four Corners and the News. Now days, she likes to watch Offspring, Winners and Losers, Australian Story, Boarder Security and cooking shows.

From now to then, 16 years on from watching the Olympics, it’s still a tradition to watch the Olympics as much as I can and it’s still a tradition for Grandma to have everything clean before sitting down for the night to watch TV. Some things will never change.