Paying Performers in the Digital Age – Screen Producers Australia Pushes New ATRRA Agreement to Boost Australian Television Hours
In the wake of the recent Drama Report revealing a significant fall in production of Australian television hours, Screen Producers Australia (SPA) CEO Matthew Deaner today said it was imperative that negotiations between SPA and the union representing performers (Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance or MEAA) to update the Actors Television Repeats and Residuals Agreement (ATRRA) be concludeds wiftly.
Mr Deaner said that digital technology has revolutionised the way in which audiences can consume screen content, yet the ATRRA, used to determine what can be screened where, hasn't been changed for over 30 years.
“The industry has to come together to agree on a new ATRRA agreement which reflects the contemporary realities of the digital world. Networks are other investors are looking for ways to monetize their commissions across multiple platforms and plays,” Mr Deaner said.
ATRRA allows producers to buy the rights to use an actor’s performance. The agreement covers TV plays and repeats, percentage of sales in Australia and overseas and allows a performer’s pay to be calculated.
Mr Deaner said that the ATRRA was first negotiated in 1982 with amounts for TV plays and residuals unchanged since then, although some minor amendments have been made subsequently for Pay TV and telemovies.
“The world of content creation is unrecognisable from 1982. Designed for a limited channel environment, the ATRRA does not cover programs made specifically for the internet and it has not kept pace with changes in technology and audience behaviour. As a result, it hinders flexibility and innovation and, critically, prevents the re-licensing of Australian programs,” he said.
“In 1982, there were only four national TV channels with SBS still not accessible throughout Australia and no 24 hour broadcasting. TV went to sleep at night. There was no competition from other forms of technology including Pay TV, and home entertainment recording and replay technology was in its early days. In 2015 we have at least 25 digital free to air TV channels and a Pay TV (Foxtel) service.
“Additionally there is an extraordinary number of services screening programs via the internet on transactional video on demand (TVOD) platforms like iTunes and Amazon, subscription video on demand (SVOD) platforms like Stan, Presto and Netflix and almost limitless entertainment available on the world wide web.”
Mr Deaner noted that TV broadcasters have responded to the demand of consumers by making programs available to stream via their websites after the program has gone to air – i.e. ‘catch up TV’. Further, some TV networks sometimes make the program available on one of their multi-channels (eg ABC2, 7Mate, Gem, Go!).
“ While the broadcasters do not wish to pay performers any less they would like more flexibility in being able to use one play of the program,” Mr Deaner said. “Further, the restriction on internet usage prior to broadcast prevents broadcasters from making limited streams of the program available before the TV broadcast to publicise the program, create word of mouth, and drive up the audience for Australian programs. “
The cost of re-licensing Australian programs is prohibitive under the current ATRRA system. As a result, the restrictions in ATRRA end up benefiting foreign programs over Australian programs in the Australian television market.
“We acknowledge concerns from all parts of the industry about the economics driving this debate. Actors are seeking increased remuneration in this changing broadcasting environment, while broadcasters are seeking greater flexibility to meet audience demand or risk oblivion. The challenge for producers is where do we find the money, we anticipate some uplift but budgets are not increasing at a commensurate rate to meet all expectations so we need manage expectations about the industry’s capacity to pay,” Mr Deaner said.
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