Local film and TV producers will be celebrating some big wins when they gather for their guild’s annual conference in Wellington this week.
Among their productions are box office hits, awards, and new shows like After The Party starring Robyn Malcolm, which are being snapped up overseas.
That’s the positive side of things but there’s a serious message at the conference and it is directed at the new government: it’s time to target the big, rich, international streamers to help keep the local sector healthy.
It’s never easy for the industry, Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA) president Irene Gardiner tells The Detail.
“We’re a small territory, so we’re a small population, so we’re a small potential audience and there’s never really quite enough money to do all the things we’d like to do,” she says.
“They have taken out an enormous amount of New Zealand viewership. That then means ad revenue is massively down and that’s money that used to get ploughed back into local production – the end that isn’t funded by the funding agencies,” Gardiner says.
The sector receives around $200 million a year through the funding agencies and in an “ideal world” that would increase. But Gardiner reckons it’s been the “best time ever in getting New Zealand shows screening around the world, selling around the world, or co-productions”.
They’ve been helped by the ongoing New Zealand Screen Production Rebate available to both local and international productions, and a specifically Covid-related economic booster called the Premium Fund run by NZ on Air, Te Māngai Pāho and the New Zealand Film Commission.
That money is running out, prompting industry leaders to target the streamers as another source of money.
SPADA wants the government to levy the likes of Netflix, Apple and Amazon at five percent of their New Zealand revenue, with the money being channeled back into local production via the public funding agencies New Zealand Film Commission, NZ on Air and Te Māngai Pāho. Gardiner says a five percent levy would raise between $20-$30 million a year.
She points out that the streamers pay no tax in New Zealand, face no regulation, and use broadband infrastructure that was partially funded by our government.
New Zealand is behind many other countries which are now starting to tackle how best to regulate them, and the levy would be a way of raising new money rather than asking the government for extra funds, she says.
It is an economic and cultural argument.
“If it became that our screen industry was basically a serving post for international productions shooting here I think that would be a big cultural loss. Losing the New Zealand voice, New Zealand stories, New Zealand humour at a time when society is quite divided, I think you really need all of that.”
The Spinoff‘s Duncan Greive wants the sector to push for a 10 percent levy on the streamers, who he says have made little effort to support the local screen industry.
“It’s actually shocking how little New Zealand content there is on Netflix. If they wanted to try and make this problem go away they could have commissioned a few shows or bought some libraries of local content but when I looked recently there were a total of seven New Zealand productions out of a library of thousands.
“As audiences transfer from TVNZ or Three to Netflix they go from a place where they’ll see a huge amount of local content and news to a place where they’ll see almost none.
“So the government, if it wants to maintain that beneficial cultural halo that sat with the local platforms, having some sort of mechanism to force them to participate in the local production sector feels inevitable to me.”
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