I attended the SPA conference as a volunteer at the Crown Convention Centre this year, spending three days ducking into various panel discussions and meeting my fellow peers and producers in the industry.
It was a worthwhile experience, what I had expected to get out of the conference was not all that different from the reality - I was able to network and learn a few things about the state of the Australian screen industry. What I didn't expect was that the conference - despite being filled with many in-depth discussions about the current challenges in reaching audiences in cinema and network television - was also a motivational pep talk for emerging filmmakers as well.
The state of television, comedy and online content seemed to be the focus.
John Edwards, the prolific veteran Australian television producer, opened the event with a bold lecture - almost like a "state of the union" address. State of the industry. He pointed out that government funding is becoming damaging to our television industry, and how we desperately need policy reform in that area. Drama television in particularly has slowly reduced from long-form 40 episode a season and whittled down to 4, 6 and 8 episodes. We barely even see 13 episodes seasons any more.
Edwards says we are sacrificing volume for production value. We should not be crying out for bigger budgets right now (as there can never be enough, it is always shrinking), but more volume and content. We should be creating a sustainable funding system to support broadcast networks and production companies to make more long-form drama television gives young Australian storytellers - writers, producers, directors, crew, etc - the opportunity to develop our craft and a prolific industry. At the moment work is only available to the experienced few since there is so little of it to go around.
Local television production is about to come under even more stress as well as Netflix continues to entice more and more Australian audiences. The Australian networks are struggling to compete, even though it's supposed to be the "Golden Age of Television". No one wants to watch ads. Yet advertising revenue is what keeps our commercial networks running and funding local productions. What's sad is that from the little I've heard at 'Meet the Buyer' panel discussions - commercial networks are still struggling to come to terms with their decline. They weren't there to admit, 'Okay, this is a problem, let's work together and fix it', it was useless PR ramble, 'We are committed to local content, we are looking for great stories, but people need to recognise the importance of advertising in sustaining network television.' The world has moved on. We cannot make audiences change their viewing habits, we must find a way to adapt.
Journalist Adam Turner made a good point saying that the networks should have combined powers early on and helped each other combat Netflix's growing dominance. Instead, their reluctance to work with their competition has left us in this mess. Hindsight is 20-20. Content will be hoarded and subdivided under different VOD companies and it's doubtful Australians will be willing to pay for more than one in order to watch all the content they want to see.
Optimistically, ABC is content hungry and really working on emulating the BBC legacy. Their "Meet the Buyer" session was positive about developing new talent and being open to the possibilities of new media development. Being a public broadcaster means they can afford to be adventurous. Two years ago, our producing lecturer Gus Howard was still speaking to us about how ABC is struggling deal with their ageing viewership, and it seems that they have made some productive steps to turning that around with shows like Please Like Me, Maximum Choppage and investment in young talent such as the Fresh Blood initiative.
There's a real push for comedy and interest in sitcom all over the board. We have such great comedians - why not great narrative comedy/sitcoms? Speaking of, Rove McManus was there to speak about a Cartoon Network show 'Exchange Student Zero' a anime inspired cartoon about a couple of boys who discover of deck of YuGiOh like cards and a anime character pops out of it, they pass him off as a Japanese exchange student at school, it's scored by Tripod. It's the first Australian cartoon on Cartoon Network.
The cartoon style is very Cartoon Network and reminded me of my childhood - Johnny Bravo, Dexter, Powerpuff Girls - but I'm too old and too female, so not my cup of tea. Now that I think about it, most CN shows are lead by males or boys, or animals with male voices. Unfortunate.
But anyway, Rove walked past and asked me where the toilet was.
It's nice also to see so many female panelists and inspiring women that work in the industry. Diversity was also an important goal on the agenda for most producers speaking at the conference, and something we desperately need on our screens. We pride ourselves as a multi-cultural nation, but the media we consume doesn't reflect our population and is still too homogenous. It's not just different faces we need to see - but depth of character for those faces to portray.
And finally to finish off, I was introduced to this hilarious web series...