TV bosses unite on tax offset boost

Monday, Jul 13, 2015

The television production and broadcast industry is reviving calls for the Abbott government to raise the tax offset for television production from 20 per cent to 40 per cent of qualifying expenditure, to bring Australia in line with rival locations such as New Zealand.

With media ownership reform deemed too difficult by Prime Minister Tony Abbott due to disagreements among media moguls, the free-to-air and pay-television sectors have united behind a renewed push for a doubling off TV producers' offset as attention turns to other reforms.

It is understood some MPs privately expressed sympathy for the cause at a Parliament House event hosted last month by Screen Producers Australia (SPA) and attended by more than  100 industry executives, government insiders and MPs, including Senator George Brandis, the Minister for the Arts.

A spokesman for Senator Brandis said: "As the Minister has said previously, the producer tax offset rates are kept under constant review." The Minister has talked positively in the past about increasing the offset when the time is right.

A clutch of leading industry figures has joined SPA in lobbying for the offset to be doubled to bring it in line with the 40 per cent offset on offer to producers of movies that are shot in Australia – a move that could help counter cost inflation, a  big problem for the networks.

Richard Freudenstein, chief executive of Foxtel, a major employer of the independent production sector, said: "Foxtel recently announced it would double its spend on new Australian programs by 2018. To support that growth we need a sustainable independent production sector.

"An increased producer offset would mean more and higher-quality Australian stories on screen and massively more opportunities for job creation and skill development." Foxtel is owned by News Corp and Telstra.

Tim Worner, chief executive of Seven West Media, which owns the top-rated free-to-air network and is arguably Australia's biggest TV producer in its own right, said: "We know that the producer offset has been extremely effective in driving high-quality drama production.  Given the increasing viewer appetite for television drama it makes good sense to apply the same-level offset to television as film.

"We have no doubt that in the future the offset will be the difference between a project getting the green light or being shelved."

Harold Mitchell, chairman of Free TV Australia, added: "We are totally supportive of creating a level playing field with film. Free TV is a very significant producer of Australian content and making Australia more competitive is what this economy needs."

The production sector has long sought an increase in the TV production offset to make Australia competitive with other countries such as New Zealand, where it is 40 per cent, and Malaysia, where it is 30 per cent.

SPA chief executive Matthew Deaner said: "This is now a truly globalised industry. In a media market that is being impacted by overseas players such as Netflix, if you don't have a solid basis for continuing to drive the supply of local content – and provide it to all manner of platforms here and overseas – you will have obliterated years of considered policy that has built capacity, employs thousands of Australians and allows us to punch well above our weight as a sector, and given us an international reputation of excellence that translates into the sales of our shows and formats and enabled a mobile workforce to be sought in every content market.

"Global platforms provide us with an opportunity to grow our domestic industry, grow employment and increase the returns to our economy as well as share our talent and stories. Increasing the offset goes a long way towards helping us deliver on this."

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