Don Groves is a Deadline contributor based in Sydney

Australia’s free-to-air TV networks will get a permanent 50% reduction in the license fees they pay to the government in return for a local content quota imposed on their multi-channels. While that may be welcome news for broadcasters, Australian producers have reacted angrily to today’s announcement. “There is little incentive to encourage new Australian content on the multi-channels under the new rules…which fail to address the increasing amount of foreign content on our screens,” says Screen Producers Association of Australia executive director Mathew Deaner. Deaner contends the networks can now meet their obligations by showing repeated Australian content on their multi-channels and that there is no imperative to create new Australian content.

The new license fee will be capped at 4.5% of a broadcaster’s annual revenue and the new content rules go into effect January 1. Each broadcaster will be required to air 730 hours of local content across all their channels in 2013, rising to 1,095 in 2014 and 1,460 in 2015. The 55% local content quota on their primary channels remains. Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Stephen Conroy defended the plan, saying, “Commercial free-to-air television is under pressure from the structural change taking place in the media due to the convergence of content delivery platforms and changing consumer habits… Without adjustments to the current rules, the industry could be forced to drop quality Australian content as cost-cutting bites into programming.” For the first time, networks will also get credits for airing first-run drama on their digital multi-channels.

In other changes today, the government announced no broadcast licenses would be granted for a fourth free-to-air TV network citing the rise of online technologies that provide new means to access content. Deaner criticized the move for protecting incumbents from competing with new entrants. Conroy also said the government is aiming to abolish the rule restricting any person from controlling a network that has an audience reach of greater than 75% of the population.

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