On a wet and squally September day in Sydney, being greeted by Deborah Mailman is a tonic. Wearing reading spectacles and a black tracksuit top with white stripes, she steps away from her laptop in this ABC office to smile radiantly with both arms extended for a handshake. Then she throws her head back, claps her hands and laughs when I recite her salty dialogue as a senator in Total Control, the stormy political television drama series directed by Rachel Perkins.
‘I know you fought my appointment, you two-faced slimy fuck,’ says Senator Alex Irving on the phone in a pub scene in episode two. ‘Let me tell you, mate, the average Australian would rather a used condom as prime minister than you, so you can fuck right off, you fuckin’ hypocrite.’
Mailman has finally landed her first starring role in an ongoing TV series, turning in a bravura performance alongside a steely Rachel Griffiths as prime minister Rachel Anderson, who together are sparking audience conversations about Indigenous incarceration rates and land rights. Mailman says Irving is fun to play because she is ‘unapologetic’ and ‘unfiltered’. A second season of Total Control was already being mapped out before the first one aired on Sunday nights on the national broadcaster in late 2019: the well-made Zeitgeist story provoking viewer buzz with lots of social media chatter, beyond an initial storm over the show’s original but abandoned title, Black Bitch, that attempted to reclaim a racial slur.
At 47, Mailman has five AACTA awards and five Logies to her credit and has been a fixture on our screens since her 1998 film debut as Nona, the tearaway youngest of three Aboriginal sisters, in Radiance, also directed by Perkins, then onto more than 80 episodes over four seasons as much-loved Kelly Lewis in Ten’s St Kilda-based ensemble drama The Secret Life of Us, a landmark representation of an ongoing Indigenous character on Australian television. Mailman’s remarkable turns in Indigenous-led ABC dramas followed, playing Bonita Mabo in the Mabo mini-series and Lorraine Blake in Redfern Now.
As the biggest commissioner of Australian drama and with a strong commitment to stories with an Indigenous flavour, such as the aforementioned shows and a new season of Mystery Road, also featuring Mailman, the ABC has a precious and precarious place at the apex of home-grown screen storytelling, strengthened by insight into the nation’s cultural preoccupations and longstanding engagement with its dramatis personae. It’s a praiseworthy achievement that, in spite of budget cuts beginning in the Abbott era and followed by the Morrison government’s freeze of annual funding over three years—the latter an effective cut of $83.7 million between 2019–20 and 2021–22—the ABC is resolutely committed to such fruitful, fertile, culturally specific ground that engages a wide viewership.
While her character is a firebrand, what makes the even-tempered, much-loved Deborah Mailman hot under the collar? ‘Well, my industry,’ she says immediately:
Our landscape is changing so drastically in the way that we view content, streaming and everything. It’s making sure that our Australian stories are always considered, because there’s no obligation for Australian content on these streaming services. There’s a massive campaign [Make It Australian, originated by Screen Producers Australia, SPA, in 2017] that has been going on for some time.
I think it’s changed quicker than we actually catch up; I don’t think anyone anticipated the landscape that is here right now. Goodness knows where it is going to be in the next two to three to five years, and what that’s going to look like. However it’s going to look like, I think it’s really important that our Australian stories are centre and front and that our government should be making sure we don’t lose that or get swamped by it.
Netflix barged onto Australian screens in July 2015, recently surging beyond 11 million users in Australia—up 25 per cent on a year earlier—but paying only $341,793 in tax for the 2018 calendar year, despite reaping between $600 million and $1 billion from local subscribers, although it does make the occasional Australian show: consider Tidelands, an eight-episode Netflix Original sci-fi-crime confection about half-human, half-siren people, filmed in south-east Queensland in 2018, but which felt a bit like a concurrently available American series called Siren. Tidelands, alas, was critically drubbed, and the production was a barely perceptible nod to Australia’s vibrant television industry from a multi-national service available in 190 countries that is thus far free of the complex, sub-quota requirements for Australian content and drama placed on longstanding local free-to-air commercial networks, or Foxtel’s expenditure requirement of 10 per cent of capital spent on each of its drama channels to be directed to scripted Australian drama, comedy or children’s content, or the ABC Charter obligation to make diverse and innovative local content.
Netflix finally opened a small office in Sydney in 2019, but its public relations exercises here thus far have tended to fall flat. Australian Indigenous content makers enquiring recently about the streamer’s interest in Indigenous stories, for instance, were told by Netflix that the company was interested in good stories generally. The Australian cultural moment appeared to hold no purchase with Netflix, which producers say appears to have more interest in telling content makers what it wants than enquiring about recent local achievements on screen.
Indeed, this is no golden streaming nirvana for local producers in general, despite the hype of opportunity: the latest research by Dr Ramon Lobato and Alex Scarlata of RMIT University’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre shows Netflix had just 82 Australian titles in its local catalogue in 2019, or just 1.7 per cent of the total catalogue, down from 88 titles (2–2.5 per cent) in 2017. Stan, the local streaming service owned by Nine Entertainment, had 162 Australian titles in 2019, or 9 per cent of its total catalogue, down from 138 titles (9.5 per cent) two years earlier. There is no percentage figure for Amazon Prime, which has the highest number of Australian titles—424, including 116 Australian movies and 80 TV series, representing an impressive back catalogue of classic Australiana—but the figures are not directly comparable drama-wise because 228 titles, more than half, are documentary or unscripted. But Amazon Prime is showing some interest in developing shows here.
Many producers are adamant: Netflix, Prime et al. should be subject to content quotas. ‘Obliging streamers to create more content in Australia will be great for our production industry but would not necessarily increase audiences’ exposure to local content on streaming platforms,’ Lobato cautions by email after we chat at the Screen Forever conference in Melbourne, held over three days by Screen Producers Australia in November 2019. ‘On the other hand, introducing a catalogue quota without a production obligation is not particularly helpful for local screen producers, and may incentivise licensing of low-value content.’
Netflix has moved on to its next original drama effort, Clickbait, an eight-part show about the gap between our online and real-life personas, driven by Australian writer, director and producer Tony Ayres, who has a strong local track record in making shows (The Slap, The Family Law). Clickbait is being made in Melbourne but is set in Oakland, California, requiring Australian actors to use American accents. Meanwhile Apple TV+, a streaming service that launched in Australia in November 2019 and is similarly unencumbered by local content obligations in Australia, is shooting an adaptation of Australian author Gregory David Roberts’ novel Shantaram in Australia and India—a production that was going to be made in South Africa until Film Victoria fought for it.
Shantaram is the story of a Pentridge prisoner on the run in Bombay, and three of the ten episodes will be directed by Australia’s Justin Kurzel, whose True History of the Kelly Gang feature film was launched on Australia Day 2020 on Stan in the month of its cinema release. Short runs in the cinema have become the standard for Australian movies, with occasional exceptions such as actor Rachel Griffiths’ directorial debut Ride Like a Girl, the biopic of Melbourne Cup–winning jockey Michelle Payne, which earned north of $11 million at the box office.
In August, I meet Griffiths at a hotel in Double Bay in Sydney where she is staying on a visit from Melbourne, prior to the film’s national release. She has a terrible cough and an asthma-inducing cold; a perfectionist, she has clearly been working too hard. Griffiths came up with the original idea for Total Control—then Black Bitch—many years ago, and names the series as her proudest achievement to date. ‘It was one of the projects that I came back from America hoping to make,’ says the actor, who rose to fame in P.J. Hogan’s film Muriel’s Wedding opposite Toni Collette and went on to roles in two big US series, Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters. ‘It was born of a moment of trying to make sense of how female politicians and women in power in Australia were treated—seeing responses to Cheryl Kernot, and Joan Kirner in Victoria.’
Griffiths then became aware of a young Indigenous woman in the 1990s who was called a ‘black bitch’ for pursuing a land rights claim, and noted misogyny directed at Julia Gillard as prime minister and abuse against former senator Nova Peris, and then attacks on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US presidential race. She pitched this ‘meditation on women and women of colour in power’ to Blackfella Films producer Darren Dale one night, realising an Indigenous woman’s experience was not her story to tell. The idea fell on fertile ground; the producers had also been interested in making a story about contemporary national politics.
In November, I see Griffiths at the podium at the SPA conference in Melbourne, delivering the Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture, during which she reveals that, before Total Control, no producer had ever asked her if she had any ideas. In her fabulous, smart, funny lecture, she calls on producers to collaborate with actors and across race, gender, sexuality and disability to survive the onslaught of growing competition from overseas streaming services:
In this time of disruption, who and how we play with and across to are of critical importance, because we’re all in stormy waters here. It’s lifeboat theory … diversity is both an existential imperative and a natural fertiliser of creative innovation.
In an international streaming market, generic trope, lazy points of view and absence of thesis, or funny but lame, cannot rise to the surface. And the networks are facing big challenges here: their perilous position must be acknowledged. Embattled by a unique local market, whose domestic successes do not always translate internationally, and more profoundly, an unlevel playing field in regards to meeting quotas, against international cabals of double-dutch, Irish sandwich-eating, non-tax paying entities feasting on their business models like zombies at a drive-in.
Griffiths sounds the warning to middle-aged white men running Australia’s television networks: ‘We know they’re scared, and there is really only one choice: you die with your ageing audience, or you embrace diversity.’
• • •
Netflix has declined my requests for interviews at Screen Forever. For the first time, Netflix is attending the annual conference to hear Australian producers’ roundtable pitches. Lisa Hamilton Daly, Netflix’s director of original series, has flown in from the United States to be quizzed one-on-one. Australian-born Debra Richards, the immediate past chief executive of Ausfilm—a body that connects filmmakers to screen incentives, talent and facilities—was recruited in September by Netflix as its regional leader to cover production policy for the Asia–Pacific region. She will be speaking on ensemble panels.
In Canada, facing a sceptical local screen industry, Netflix pledged $500 million for local content over five years. The European Commission meanwhile is finalising a local content quota of at least 30 per cent. But Netflix’s opposition to quotas is clear. Chief executive Reed Hastings told a media briefing in California in 2018:
Quotas are well-intentioned ways for governments to try to make sure there’s investment in local content, to try to strengthen local culture … but like most things, the regulations often backfire. What happens is a whole lot of not-very-high-quality content gets produced to comply with a quota, which doesn’t really reinforce [local] content.
It’s difficult, however, to see how a laissez-faire approach will automatically yield quality when considering Tidelands or the ABC–Netflix co-production Pine Gap, both of which received a critical thumbs-down. At the conference’s Tuesday opening session I spot Richards, said to be a great networker and lobbyist, in the audience. She taps the shoulder of Film Victoria president Ian Robertson to say hello. After booming music and flashes of blue and purple lights, SPA president Matthew Deaner mentions Netflix are sponsoring the opening night’s drinks, and Amazon Prime the closing night’s gala party.
He says the introduction into the market of a secondary wave of streaming services, such as Disney+ and Apple+, will ‘hasten audience behavioural shifts and quicken the competitive tension between current services’. On the other hand, Deaner reminds attendees, the new ABC managing director, David Anderson, is ‘warning about reductions in investments in content as it needs to find cuts to meet the current indexation freeze’. As he speaks about import versus export and the 225 world territories taking Australian content—though most of it goes to Britain and the United States—Richards is tapping away on her mobile phone, tending to business. Ian Robertson takes the podium:
Arguably, the most important pending government policy decision concerning screen production in Australia and the continued availability of quality Australian content, especially drama, on Australian screens, is whether to impose a drama production expenditure quota on subscription video-on-demand services. In the view of Film Victoria, and the Victorian Government, such a quota is essential.
The audience applauds. An expat Melburnian living in Sydney, Robertson mentions he is a member of the Sydney Swans, and witnessed the ‘appalling racism’ to which Adnyamathanha-Narungga footballer Adam Goodes was subjected. Robertson cites the importance of well-produced documentaries The Final Quarter and The Australian Dream in ‘helping to shift’ Australian attitudes on racism.
The arts minister, Paul Fletcher, whose political party has devoted considerable energy to attacking the national broadcaster about its programming and perceived bias, tells the audience the commercial free-to-air broadcasters collectively remain the largest contributors to financing Australian drama productions, but ranked individually, the ABC produced the single largest amount coming into the sector. He spends much of his 20 minutes telling these professionals how their sector works and acknowledges the ‘pressure’ subscription video-on-demand is placing on scheduled, linear drama on broadcast TV. ‘Executives in the TV sector tell me that shows that a few years ago would have been watched by two million people around the country, are now only getting a few hundred thousand,’ he says.
This ‘intense competition for eyeballs’, including from streaming services, social media and YouTube, ‘may not be good news for the traditional broadcast TV businesses’, Fletcher concedes, and he refers to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry’s 23 recommendations, including the need for ‘harmonisation’ of Australian media requirements regardless of platform: ‘I expect our response to set out a pathway the government will take to engage with these and other issues and to reach decisions on them.’ He concludes by reminding those present their industry is ‘very special’ because ‘everyone loves the glamour of showbusiness. What you do is important culturally, but it is also important economically’. He tells them ‘over half a billion dollars [is] going into the Australian screen sector in 2019–20’, and ‘all Australians are entitled to expect that your sector uses that money wisely, that you’re telling great stories, and you’re getting as many people as possible to see them’. (Predictably, when the government kicks the quota can down the road of 2020, or perhaps beyond. Shockingly, in early December the Morrison government announced a round of department streamlining that saw arts responsibilities moved into the same mega-portfolio as roads and rail. The word ‘arts’ disappeared all together from the ministry title with philistine efficiency.)
In a quiet room I speak to Wonderland Productions producer Kingston Anderson, the immediate past chief executive of the Australian Directors’ Guild. Anderson is worried that the Australian Government will ditch quotas on free-to-air broadcasters. ‘If we get rid of any regulation of free-to-air TV under our free trade agreement, we cannot bring it back,’ he warns. We discuss the 1.7 per cent of Australian content on Netflix, barely changed from the previous year. ‘It hasn’t shifted at all, and I think that’s an enormous problem,’ he says. ‘They should be doing a hell of a lot more. The government’s got to do something.’
On the Wednesday morning I type a private message to Netflix’s Debra Richards on the Screen Forever app, which gives attendees professional information about, and access to, other individuals attending. ‘Hi Debra. Are you available today for a brief interview about the future of Australian content?’ I press send and hope for the best. At 11.30 am Richards is speaking at a session called the Global Streaming Boom, alongside Paul Wiegard, founder of screen company Madman Entertainment (which owns the successful local niche streaming services AnimeLab, DocPlay and sports adventure film portal Garage), researcher Ramon Lobato of RMIT, and Film Victoria CEO Caroline Pitcher, who warns the audience that ‘streamers aren’t the be-all and end-all’ and ‘don’t let the shiny lights of streaming be the first thing you focus on’. She reminds them that the ABC and SBS remain the predominant commissioners of Australian content.
Everyone is trying to focus on global opportunity, if only it were clear what that is. Panel host Marcus Gillezeau asks if the Australian stories that will appeal internationally to streamers can be ‘more sophisticated’ than Crocodile Dundee. Lobato says the originals the likes of Netflix produces ‘don’t fall easily into one category’. Richards jumps in to cite Netflix’s commissioning of comedian Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special: ‘I don’t think Hannah Gadsby is anywhere like Crocodile Dundee. Just look at the success Nanette has been.’
Talk turns to Richards’ new role at Netflix. ‘I hope I can explain my role,’ she says. ‘I’m just coming to terms with it, right?’ Her role at Ausfilm was to attract production to these shores; now her role with Netflix is to make countries in the Asia-Pacific region as attractive in terms of stage space and crew development. She is one of four people working on Netflix production policy: ‘There are four of us, and we divide the world up, as is our wont,’ she says, and it’s hard to tell if the line is meant to be ironic. She looks after APAC, which is ‘from India through to Japan, including Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.’ The ‘opportunities are huge’, she insists, ‘it’s like, how long is a piece of string?’ Except, she adds, Australian producers are now competing for Netflix’s attention not only with all English-language film industries but also other regional producers, particularly from Korea, she enthuses: ‘Put a K in front of something and you sell it. It’s extraordinary.’ Richards says she ‘can’t underestimate [sic] the opportunity that’s there’.
That morning, the double-conference room had been packed to hear Netflix’s director of original content Lisa Hamilton Daly speak. At the back it was standing room only; the bright lights of streaming land had brought conference delegates from far and wide across the continent. The session began with a video clip from Tidelands on a large screen, an unfortunate choice, because Hamilton Daly admits ‘regrettably it did not get the audience we hoped it would’, meaning in Netflix terms viewers did not stay watching the series through, and the company is not sure why. ‘You know, that was not a show I was involved in,’ she is quick to point out, declaring it a ‘fun show’. Comedian Chris Lilley’s Lunatics, meanwhile, ‘did really well’ on Netflix in Australia, and ‘moderately well’ in other territories. This is surprising candour from a service that generally refuses to divulge its viewing numbers.
Hamilton Daly is interviewed on stage by Jennifer Collins, director of content at Fremantle Australia, who talks about the ‘flurry of excitement’ that met Netflix opening an office in Sydney. Hamilton Daly says most of the company’s executives are based in Los Angeles, but the office here is about ‘opening up a dialogue’ and ‘tapping’ local talent. Collins says ‘local content quotas are on everybody’s lips here’, and asks Hamilton Daly’s opinion of them. The Netflix executive fails to answer the question, citing the production of Clickbait and ‘increased dialogue’. Collins fails to press the question. Twenty-five minutes later, Collins asks:
You would have got swamped last night at the drinks and you would have met a few producers … How many shows would you in a perfect world like to commission out of Australia? Like, have the money to commission out of Australia in the next, say, 12 months, really getting into active development with?’
Hamilton Daly responds:
As an original? I mean, I think realistically it’s probably one or two, at the absolute tops, just because we have a certain amount of slots … as originals. As co-productions, we have a lot more leeway. That’s just for me, I can’t speak for my colleagues, it’s not a flood of stuff … It’s what fits well with the rest of our slate.
Wednesday becomes Thursday, the last conference day, and a message pings my inbox at 4.13: ‘sorry, Steve, missed this yesterday’, writes Debra Richards, referring me to Netflix’s communications department. Even the kids in the creche, with their Netflix goody bags, toys and T-shirts, score more from the streamer than me, although a handful of successful producer ‘applicants’ were able to avail themselves of the first-time ‘Netflix pitch’ opportunity to two of its executives present. They got five minutes each to make their presentations, with ‘immediate feedback’.
• • •
A week later I am in the Snowy Mountains on a windswept hilltop without mobile phone reception, watching a stellar performance by actor–writer–director Leah Purcell as a late-nineteenth-century frontierswoman in her forthcoming feature film The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson, written concurrently with her multi-award-winning play and a novel published in December 2019 of the same name. The experience has a certain smoky, dusty, thrilling wild Australian edge, not least as cast, crew and this observer gather by the specially constructed stringybark slab hut with mountain ash poles to hear about an evacuation plan to the Murrumbidgee River below should bushfires approach.
I talk with the film’s co-producer David Jowsey about the screen conference. Jowsey has a strong production track record, including the film and TV series Mystery Road, Rachel Perkins’ Jasper Jones and Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country. He says he supports content quotas and offers to give an interview on the record the following week. ‘It’s not a financial argument, it’s a cultural argument,’ he tells me on the phone a few days later. ‘We have spent many years developing this framework for the cultural integrity of our society and our voice and our history, and I don’t see why that should be undone by a foreign player coming here. They should have to participate in that regime so that it’s fair.’
If a 10 per cent expenditure requirement on first-run Australian content quota were placed on Netflix, equivalent to Foxtel, that would pour many millions more into the local production industry and ‘make an enormous difference here’. Streamers such as Netflix are also big users of the National Broadband Network, a public asset funded by taxpayers, he notes. ‘They don’t make any contribution to [the NBN], they get that for free,’ he says. ‘They [also] pay very little tax on money that goes straight out of the country … on every level they’re winning and making no contribution.’ Jowsey is less than impressed with the scale of the Netflix office set up in Sydney. ‘What they’ve set up here one could argue is a PR function. It’s in their interest to not have a regulatory regime imposed upon them,’ he says.
Anybody else who is providing a broadcasting service or a diffusion service in Australia in the past has had to have an Australian spend commitment on first-run Australian drama, and I don’t see why Netflix should be any different. That is a long-held regime that has worked very effectively, both in children’s television and making Australian drama which is much loved, and has forged [our] identity in a major way—even more than I think our artistic endeavour in other fields such as writing, theatre; I think the film and television industry has really helped create and define the Australian identity and the cohesion in the sense of who we are.
In all the talk about Australian drama, the clear, existential threat to Australian children’s programming often gets overlooked. In July 2017, the Seven, Nine and Ten chiefs called for the scrapping of requirements for children’s and pre-school programming. One Australian success story has been the animated series Bluey, created by Queenslander Joe Brumm and produced out of Brisbane’s Ludo Studio, beloved by adults and children alike, nominated for an International Kids’ Emmy and signed by Disney for streaming around the world outside Australia. Disney will keep Bluey’s Australian voices rather than re-voice the cartoon with US accents; proof that in the international streaming world, the Australian vernacular can travel.
All of this would have been impossible without the ABC originally commissioning the show, acknowledges Ludo co-founder and co-director Charlie Aspinwall. ‘We’d be nowhere without them,’ he tells me from Brisbane. ‘Even the very first pilot that we did was funded by the ABC. It was only [then ABC head of children’s television] Michael Carrington’s support that allowed us to get there … he was our biggest supporter.’ At home, Bluey became the most popular show ever on ABC iview. Aspinwall says Australia does kids TV really well and he supports quotas for Australian content. ‘I do feel the SVODs [streaming video-on-demand services] should support the local industry in some way. It seems fair to me … I think we have to have quotas because Australian kids must have Australian kids’ TV.’
Meanwhile Stan is making a big play of its summer 2020 offerings of new Australian shows. On a Tuesday evening in late November 2019, the streaming service splashed some cash at the Sydney Opera House, erecting a marquee in the northern forecourt and rolling out the blue carpet for stars such as Jacki Weaver, who starred in Bloom at the start of 2019—an original series Stan CEO Mike Sneesby declared at Screen Forever ‘our most successful ever production’, though he disclosed no viewing figures and the service had created only a few local productions at the time Bloom aired. Ewen Leslie and Emma Booth speak about The Gloaming, the new show written by Victoria Madden, whose previous creation for Foxtel, The Kettering Incident, was lauded by critics. There is also Matt Okine from Stan comedy original The Other Guy, presenting a clip from the show’s second season, and English actress Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey fame, presenting another new Stan original Australian drama, The Commons.
The masterstroke preview is saved for last: a presentation of True History of the Kelly Gang, Justin Kurzel’s feature that premiered briefly in cinemas on 9 January 2020 before being launched—somewhat subversively—on Stan just over two weeks later on Australia Day. I had chatted earlier in the year to Essie Davis, who is married to Kurzel and plays Ned’s mother, Ellen, in a trailer on the set of another forthcoming Australian film, Babyteeth. Davis said Ellen Kelly is probably the favourite of all her acting roles, and she laughed all the harder about the ‘broken ribs and crazy pain’ she sustained. ‘She’s a cut snake, she’s wild, she’s gorgeous, she’s fierce, she’s a survivor. She’s super tough. She’s pretty mean. She can punch as hard as any man. She’s pretty strong.’
Filmed at Clunes, 139 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, True History of the Kelly Gang showcases Kurzel’s eye for detail and ability to overcome practical restraints placed on Australia’s screen industry creatives. As Davis recalls:
Even when the budget got so constricted in trying to finance Kelly Gang, he was like, ‘Okay, if we can’t do it accurately, build the log huts the way they would have, then let’s imagine the whole thing from inside Ned Kelly’s helmet, and shoot it like that. Let’s design it all as if we’re in his helmet.’ He’s got a real problem-solving brain because he will always go, ‘If I have to make compromises, I want them to be artistic decisions.’
The Stan deal might be viewed as a life raft for the Kelly film, ensuring it is swiftly seen after its cinema run by a wide audience. Some 2.6 million Australians now have access to Stan, though that’s still way behind the 11.2 million who can view Netflix. Sneesby seems nonchalant about all the new streaming players coming into the market, with newcomers such as Disney+—which at launch in Australia pulled its content off Stan—that will ultimately quarantine some of the best US shows. There is speculation about other streaming services that might launch in Australia, including HBO Max, its shows presently available through Foxtel, and Peacock from Comcast-NBC-Universal. Stan has a valuable long-term deal as the home of Showtime in Australia, but Showtime’s parent company CBS also has a deal with 10 All Access in Australia. Moods change; contracts and loyalties are not forever.
‘There’s plenty of speculation in the media about the negative angle to it, but I guarantee they will bring more households into streaming; they will provide an excellent complement to Stan and Netflix in the market, and I’m extremely confident that we’re going to see that rising tide lift all streaming boats,’ says Sneesby. Exactly how much time Australians have to be glued to a screen remains to be seen, but it makes sense that Stan is establishing itself now as a home of new Australian production, with original content a commercial driver of new subscriptions. Sneesby thinks that’s enough and is predictably resistant to content quotas:
We already make a strong volume of original content. We haven’t gone out and produced our originals because there was a quota, or we were concerned there was going to be a quota. We’ve gone and done it to build a brand, to build a commercially sustainable and viable business model for us that works. The great thing about it is everything we make is delivering a commercial return, it’s working for us; there’s no unnatural force at play. So I think that’s the best way to build a business and build an industry.
Then Sneesby flippantly flips the conversation to the perpendicular pronoun and harks to the kind of media market strangle-hold enjoyed by the likes of US citizen Rupert Murdoch, which would surely be the most unnatural force of all: ‘I could be a bit facetious and flip the whole thing around and say, if we were given those regulations, I’d also take the approved monopoly that goes with those regulations, or oligopoly to go with those regulations, if there was a world where there could be a limited number of streaming services that compete with me, or I was a monopoly, I’d happily take on a whole bunch of obligations to do that.’
The marquee Aussie evening is drawing to a close. Now Hobart-born Essie Davis is at the podium, radiating with pride in a gorgeous, long, kimono-style dress with a green floral pattern, standing at the big-screen end of the long blue Stan carpet, oblivious for just a moment of the domineering Netflix fighting from the red corner:
I feel incredibly proud of Australia and Australians, who have created such an amazing body of work. It’s extraordinary work; I’m very, very proud to be an Australian. Hopefully this might be the cherry on top of what is a smorgasbord of brilliance. This is the Kelly gang legend like it’s never been seen before. It’s a punk, twenty-first-century reimagining with an incredible international cast.
In the 2020s, though, bushrangers must make room for wild west cowboys. In the new decade, Ned will not be the only one holding up the established order at gunpoint, demanding their piece of country. Such is streaming life. •
Steve Dow is a Sydney-based arts writer whose profiles and reviews appear in The Saturday Paper, Guardian Australia, The Monthly, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Art Guide and Limelight.