Australian stories have become the main battleground for everything from media to politics.
Who can tell them? Who funds them? What legislation should we have around them (quotas anyone)? And what economic role do our stories play in keeping content creators afloat and our national history alive?
But in this economy? We are at a tipping point.
Do you remember when you tried to watch the Australian Open around 2006? Non-stop pop-ups on Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy.
Even if you, or the consumers you marketed to, weren’t into tennis or those particular programs, there’s probably a dramatic international TV moment you remember. Maybe it was 24? Or Lost?
These programs mattered in the conversation, in the content landscape, and in everyone’s marketing budgets. Thus, local television stations were not necessarily making a mistake by overinvesting in these international flagship programs.
It’s a different world now.
These international programs may still have their loyal local audience, but they are divided between those who dive in and out, that small (but mostly growing) component that will pirate the programs, and those who follow their favorite legacy characters. streaming service it may be on depending on the license agreement in place at that particular time.
Local content therefore became the point of difference. The game changer. The “look at me”.
Nine’s Stan (then a joint venture between Nine and Fairfax before Nine swallowed up its JV partner in 2018) was a bit of a game changer.
Properly local programs telling local stories with local producers, actors, writers and crew like those in 2019 Bloomas well as international agreements with Paramount in the same year, set the service apart.
“We have the big international programs you want, but we will also tell your stories as you saw them on TV.” We are television, but as you want it.
The game changed again with the abundant proliferation of streaming services and it seemed everyone’s point of difference was diluted.
Also, in the background, Australian television had returned to Australian stories. Foxtel and all the free networks told a different story. Your story. Our history.
Massively changing their stance from 15 years ago, they suddenly broke down to tell advertisers, consumers and themselves how important Australian stories were and are.
And they weren’t wrong.
Linear TV’s top-rated programs are no longer Grey’s Anatomy Where Desperate Housewivesbut MasterChef Australiaso what Married at first sightlocal sports competitions like the AFL and unexpected successes like the Hamish Blake-frontal Lego masters.
Also, remember when patrick died on Offspring? Phew.
At the same time, the repetitive – but necessary – debate over local content quotas has resurfaced.
Everyone likes to say that quotas are unfair. They put undue and unfair financial pressure on some operators to do more than others – things they would do anyway.
At this year’s Screen Forever conference, it was, as always, the talk of the town, with local TV stations saying they were doing more than ever and that they knew their legal and moral obligations to tell our stories.
Netflix, meanwhile, which was in the process of increasing its local presence, pleaded “Give us time, we are building a local team. You will soon see the results”.
Indeed, Netflix had commissioned a reimagining of Raised from heartache for a new generation. There is the transformation of Trent Daltonit is Boy swallows the universe in a Netflix offering, not to mention the ever-controversial “docu-soap” Byron Baes.
Speaking to me at Screen Forever, Netflix executives were keen to get the message out: they want to play local and they want to play big.
In effect, Minyoung Kimvice president of content for Asia-Pacific (excluding India), said the more local and authentic the story, the more likely it will travel internationally.
The Korean super hit, squid game, has only proved this point. It went crazy internationally despite local nuances, local languages and local commentary. This added, not subtracted, to its global appeal.
Kim asked me: why couldn’t an Australian story on Netflix have a similar locally created global megahit?
And once they’ve found an Australian story, why wouldn’t this enthralled global audience chase more of the same? squid game audience did with Korean content?
But those comments were made in March. Since then, the economy has not improved. Neither Netflix’s position in the market nor the headlines about its growth prospects.
In addition, there are the pressures that the climate places on communities, governments and economies. What about the pandemic? The Ukrainian invasion? At this point, choose your problem.
Will international players change their tone?
And what about our local friends?
Like streaming services, local TV networks are apparently now entirely local.
Stream Roomthe director of content programming at Seven Network, told me that the network’s point of difference was to speak to central Australia with the sport, news and stories they wanted to see, both at the local and wider national level.
He noted that global streaming players, with their lack of regulation and reliance on international stories and documentaries, have almost forced local players to lean more into local stories.
“They are everything,” he said of local stories.
Adrian Swifthead of production and content development at Nine Network, sang a similar tune.
“That’s all everybody wants,” he said, before joking about trying to make international drama work in this environment, in this economy. How times have changed.
Daniel Monaghan was perhaps in a more divided position. He is senior vice president of content and programming for 10’s parent company, Paramount ANZ. Network 10 is, of course, a local TV content producer, bringing us the likes of Neighbors (for the next week at least) and many more, but is now owned by one of the major international content houses.
He was keen to tell me about the many unique Australian stories that both 10 and Paramount tell, while pointing out that it’s a ‘slap in the face’ when they’re being asked to do even more local content.
These comments were, as I said, made in March, and since then 10 has had the largest local program launch in metropolitan markets with hunt – both the biggest of the year and the network’s biggest program launch since Fantastic race in 2019.
And the biggest hits of other networks are also local.
It sounds simple, but the world is upside down and it’s all made up and the dots don’t matter (or do they?).
We live in an economy where consumer confidence and spending are at rock bottom, while at the same time spending at retailers such as JB Hi-Fi has soared nearly 11%.
So given the confusion, confusing trends, and shifting consumer confidence and ideals, what happens next, in this economy, will be a local story worth listening to.