Project Timeline 2005–2010

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Proof of Concept Phase – Interview H

Categories: Interviews, Proof of Concept Interviews, Support Material
Date: 18 April 2005
Contributors:

Andy Lloyd James: …these days just seeing how…

Interviewee: [xxxxx] but if I say… I will tell you if something is highly confidential.

There you go, sure.

I mean the thing for me and I’ve just spent some time in the U.S talking to senior TV executives so I’ve been thinking about television a bit lately. And for me I think you’re almost starting to get some of the similar trends in TV that you’ve seen in film over the last 15 years where there is enormous pressure, downward pressure on the budgets for TV and then you’ve got this kind of Big Event television so it’s almost like the parallel between independent cinema and the blockbusters. You know some of the guys I was talking to were saying how you know like the amounts they’re getting per episode – and this is drama I’m talking about in this instance – you know they’re probably kind of halved in the last 5 years, in terms of per episode budgets. And then you look at the stuff like Desperate Housewives or the CSI franchise or whatever, and it seems to me that you’ve got those ones that work really well and it’s the classic thing about TV, once something works well, they just try and replicate it, either for their own purposes or reformat it around the world for other people, so you’ve got that whole risk aversion which is really prevalent in the film sector. And in some respects, I guess TV has always been risk averse, but I think it’s even worse, you’ve got the, you know, the impact of reality TV where the budgets have been driven down and you can actually do high rating film… programming for relatively low budgets and people keep telling me that reality TV will run its course but there is not much, I mean yes there are things that are tanking but there are still other things that are working like they’re just getting more sophisticated about reality TV and the things like The Apprentice with Trump, and you know they’re just finding different ways of doing it. So I think that kind of phenomenon will probably still run for some time, whether it’s going to survive 10 years, I think it will just transmogrify into some other form.

What does that mean here? I mean, we start from a low base anyway, we sell what 55%, on television.

Well you’ve got a whole range of problems here, you’ve got not enough money at the FFC, which means that I actually think that we’re probably getting below a critical mass in terms of production for both film and television.

Really?

Yeah. Having seen… you know when the FFC changed its guidelines last year, the demand on an organisation like the FTO for funding for television in particular has just been horrendous and…

Really?

Despite the fact that the market place has been forced to stump up better licence fees and stuff, I just don’t know how sustainable that set of circumstances is because they’ve pushed the amounts they put in from 50 down to 35 and then made it an option. And everyone seemed to know what everybody else was bidding, so it was this kind mad set of circumstances. So you’ve got a funding problem anyway in terms of government sources as well as obviously whether the networks are going to be prepared to continue to stump up what they would see as quite large amounts of money. You’ve got obviously the increased pressure to just buy things and that’s why I talk about this whole event, television, where you have got this really big name series. If you look at how Seven has been able to defeat Nine over the last week or so in terms of the ratings starting, Desperate Housewives, Beckham, Leighton and Lost.

And ‘Lost’. Yes, [xxxxx].

I did because I was not well last week, so I watched quite a lot of television and it’s just bizarrely weird, it’s like this plane crashes in this tropical island, and you know there is lots of characters, so there was a lot of set up about the kind of characters and then the second one there was this huge animal chasing them through the bush, and it ends up being a polar bear and you’re in a tropical environment, and…

But there are elements of the sort of Survivor reality show in there?

No, no it’s more sort of like a plan crash, drama, film, thing.

How long did it go on?

I’ve no idea, it’s just so… it’s just… it’s like… it’s engrossingly bad, I think is my… (laughs) and Channel Seven had an equally bad disaster film on last night which started at 7.30, because some friends came over and they insisted on watching it and I then started reading and doing stuff and then they left and then we went back to it, and it was, and it went on for like 4 hours. So it was probably a mini series actually, I didn’t know anything about it until this friend said we’ve got to watch…

Just sort of [xxxxx] one day!

Category of destruction or the day or destruction or whatever it was called. ‘Category 6 – The Day of Destruction’ I think it was called. So, in terms of scheduling, again this is some stuff that came out of the U.S which I think is interesting, people are talking to me about wanting to make 6 to 8 hours of drama, not necessarily a bundling of like four tele movies but sort of a hybrid between the ‘Halifax FP’ kind of thing and something that’s more like an expanded mini series. And so there is interest in drama, but it’s kind of drama in a different format and we’ve even seen it here over the last year where because people don’t see they’re getting value for money for the Hollywood films on a Sunday night, there’s been a whole push to do exclusive Australian drama so we’ve had Love My Way on Foxtel. Showtime keep talking about doing a mini series and I think they’ve got one funded, oh they’ve got the George Miller – Thailand thing, Mango River, which they’ve just got.

Oh. And they’re doing the Bali Bombing as well.

Yeah I think that’s the Bali Bombing one.

Oh it is? Mango River, oh sorry.

I think that’s called Mango River. Yeah so I mean I know these are trends now but I’m… it’s just interesting to see how things are shifting and it gets harder as to where they might be in 10 years time but, you know, the whole DVD home entertainment phenomenon is really why the Hollywood films… people aren’t, the broadcasters aren’t getting the value out of them anymore.

One of the things I was thinking about it, I was fascinated to see how Desperate Housewives was scheduled.

Yeah, it was interesting.

Because they ran it up three times in a week.

Yeah.

And it made me just think about the whole question of what 2nd and 3rd and 4th runs are worth to a broadcaster anymore, in a world where DVD is being produced in all parts of the world, where there is piracy going on and this, that and the other.

Well it’s almost like to until we get the TEVO, you know the storeroom record elements, I’m surprised they haven’t hit Australia and I don’t know why they haven’t. But it is almost like that, near video on demand, but it’s interesting they did it for the first episode but they’re not doing it subsequently.

No I know, it’s really…

Because I’m going out tonight and I thought I’d be able to watch Desperate Housewives tomorrow night and I just look it up in the thing and it’s not on and I thought – damn!

It’s so clever.

So I think that people will play a lot with scheduling about things, I mean you’ve already seen the classic Sunday night stuff how much that’s changed over the last year with those strong event television with the CSI and whatever, and in some respects it’s almost… it’s almost a version, when the ABC did that stuff that was strong on a Friday and Saturday night, I mean different kind of audiences but… So I think scheduling will change a lot and then you get into, well how is the technology going to change in the next few years and all those issues about the fragmentation of the advertising dollar for Free-to -Airs and…

Are you seeing that yet?

Not especially, I mean the revenues are still pretty robust with the Free-to-Air broadcasters. I mean I suppose there must be some… you know it must have grown, I haven’t even looked at any specific figures but it must be gradually starting to happen. And then I guess you’ve got the other issue of whether Pay TV has pretty much plateaued and whether the digital environment will actually mean it will go up.

Yes.

Because I think before the digital roll out, Pay TV had pretty much plateaued.

Do you think that’s…

About 10% of households.

Do you think that’s anti-syphoning or do you think that’s… do you think it’s actually more than that. I mean I can’t get any feeling… tell me as it runs because I can’t get any feeling of how much people really like to spend $50, 60 or $70 a month on subscription and whether it’s delivering what they want and I’m talking to [xxxxx] people later this week.

Well I guess, anecdotally of the people that I know and talk to about this stuff, people whinge about Pay T.V. not being good enough but then when they don’t have it, they really miss it!

Is that right?

Yes, that would be my sort of straw pole because I’ve had a bunch of people that I know who are in some way connected to the industry, who have either had it and then not had it, and I’ve sort of said, well what’s it like, so they actually find it pretty grim when you’ve just got the Free-to-Air.

Yeah, [xxxxx].

Having had the experience. And certainly in terms of my own viewing patterns, I mean I watch a lot of Pay, of the television I watch, I watch a lot of Pay.

Is that also watching Free-to-Air through pay or…?

No, it’s actually the Pay channels.

Is it?

Yes.

Yes.

I do watch, I mean again I’ll turn on some of that Event TV on the Free-to-Airs and watch it through my box and on the digital television, but I also watch a lot of things, you know like one of the reasons I got it was because I wanted some decent international news, because I don’t think the ABC delivers any of that stuff any more.

Yes.

And you can get drama and, like last week when I was sick I caught up with three really good movies.

Yeah. Worth being sick?

It was worth being sick. So there are things like that where…

Somebody I was talking to the other day was saying that they really felt that the future for Subscription Television in part, given that they’ve actually got what the Free-to-Airs haven’t got, which is a relationship with individual viewers, that they could use that relationship, do you know how there’s a kind of walled gardens growing up on the internet or [xxxxx], that they could use that relationship to provide a kind of safe home for audio visual users of all kinds, whether they’re using the internet or DVDs or Subscription Television or whatever. And also people using it to buy things and you could use a model like Foxtel as a safe home for which you build your own profile. Is that happening in the States at all? Are people clustering themselves into sort large groups? I’m not aware of it.

No, I’m not aware of it either, I can’t think of anything I’ve read in the trade or anyone I’ve talked to that’s talked about that.

It just seems like… whether it’s kosher or not, I have no idea, but it just seems like a fascinating way of…

Mm, hmm.

But it’s clearly one of the problems is going to be privacy or… sorry amongst the problems will be privacy, piracy and all of those kind of things, and also people trying to presumably parents trying to dodge some fairly unsavoury material whether it’s gambling or porn or whatever for their kids.

Yes, because Sex and the City is currently running 5 times a day on the W Channel, and every time it comes up like it’s 9:30, 11:30, you know 3:30, whatever I can’t remember the times and – because I watched a bit of that as well, because I had missed a whole lot of those episodes – and so every time it comes up, they’d say parents should put on the thing but parents are presumably not going to be home at 11:30 in the morning, watching what Johnny or Melissa or whoever is going to be watching.

Melissa is their valued neighbour!

Yeah (laughs)… So…

What interests me about that fragmentation thing though is, like you I think whether it’s happening or not, it is bound to start happening, if the advertisers –who I’m also talking to in this process – but if the advertisers start to shift their dollars out of Free-to-Air, even in comparatively small numbers, I imagine that there are then… not I imagine but it seems pretty clear that there’s a real risk that Australian content is going to start to suffer first. And that if the dollars are going the ABA won’t be able to sustain their tribulations.

Oh, better hold the warrants, that’s right. You know the minute that there are substantial… as you say, not even that substantial but any kind of consistent pattern, like if you had like 2 years in a row of a fall in that ad revenue, then the broadcasters would be screaming at government about changing the regulation. And of course with the Free Trade Agreement, which we’re yet to see the impact of, and they can put the regulation down for Free-to-Air, but to actually do any other useful kind of regulation…

Bloody hard!

And almost impossible.

Particularly as presumably [xxxxx], I don’t know what the FTA describes as New Media but I assume…

Well nobody does!

But is it… do you assume that essentially it’s anything that isn’t the current Free-to-Air Model plus what exists as a true [xxxxx]?

Well you’d have to have that debate but the problem with the way the FTA words, is that you have to convince the government that there is a problem, then you’ve got to go to the U.S and have a consultation with them about it. Now the whole thing about new media is the speed at which it actually changes, and you know you’ve done that stuff, that could take you three years, even assuming that the U.S wanted to have a discussion with you, which I don’t see why they would. So you know by the time you’ve no longer got that part of like the Free-to-Air production sector is dying away and, you know you’re trying to go out into whatever the new platforms and content creation is, three years, there won’t be anyone left unless you put massive amounts of government money in.

Yes, unlikely.

I mean you can already see the problems with content. At the moment because the Feds have put virtually no money into content, there is hardly any Australian companies that are sort of playing in that space, and you know the Telcos still don’t really understand content, they kind of say they do but they don’t really, and you know the thing about that high level content is that it’s relatively expensive. Though there was a great seminar and in fact they’ve done, apparently they’ve taped it if you’re interested, that DLUX held last week. It’s D L U X and I can get you the details, which was about content on mobile phones.

Oh, this was?

I can’t remember what it was called but…

Yes this was last Tuesday or last Monday.

Yes.

I didn’t realised it was taped. I know somebody who was asking for it but…

Yeah!

Oh great.

Because there’s a friend of mine, Sophia Zicario, who’s ex-SBS who you may know or know of.

Yes, I certainly know the name.

And she… when she left SBS she went to Hutch – Hutchinson – and talked to them about their G3 stuff and she did it 2 weeks before they launched and they gave her money with the PFTC to do Micro Movies and she’s doing these three minute animated little things.

Oh really?

I actually got to see them, because we’d been talking about them for you know, whatever… and she actually showed them on screen and they’re fantastic.

Really?

Yes

Do they work?

Well…

You were watching them on your [xxxxx]…

No I was watching them on a screen so I haven’t.

It worked there as well?

But they look great on the screen. And really fabulously kind of quirky and interesting and fun and…

God! In a business sense, was there the money there?

Well Hutchinson wouldn’t have been interested without the PFTC putting up a bunch of money.

Right.

And that’s what I’m saying, you know without some government money to actually let people play in these new spaces, you’re going to have a lot of trouble actually getting Australians into whatever these new spaces are.

Did I see that the AFC has withdrawn?

She did them sort of like 12 grand for 3 minutes of animations, 10 to 12 grand.

Did I see that the AFC has withdrawn from New Media, what’s that new media [xxxxx]

I don’t know. If the money run out?

I don’t know.

Because I only got 2½ million.

It was a…Oh really?

When they got that money…

Oh, because I thought it was just one bag…

Originally it was 2½ million over 2 years or 3 years or whatever.

I would have loved to have been in that, yeah.

And then they just got a bucket of money from the Feds in this last round. And I know they’re doing a whole lot of development stuff but I haven’t actually caught up with what they’re doing about New Media.

Yes. So you are starting to see some sort of business plans working…?

Well the business models are still hard to find, and I miss the… I was only there for one session, I missed the morning session, and there was talk about uploads and costs of uploads and downloads. And Hutchinson is obviously pricing themselves much lower than Telstra and Optus in terms of downloads, but it was sort of alluded to, so again I haven’t… but obviously all those pricing issues, I mean when I was at the ABC I spent quite a lot of time trying to get Telstra to think about their pricing mechanisms when you were talking about video, and they just didn’t want to go there.

Is that right?

Yes. So I think people were saying that you know a download was like $22 with Telstra in G3 and it was like they had a flat fee or a 4 dollar fee with Hutchinson or something, so it was something of those dimensions but I’ve got to watch the tape as well and see…

That’s fascinating.

Which is the problem with all these business models, is how do you actually charge people for this stuff, and that’s been the problem all the way down the line, I mean even when you go back to, you know when Nine MSN started and I think one of your friends, what was his name who used to run drama who went off to work for Nine MSN? Someone Smith wasn’t he a friend of yours?

Malcolm?

Malcolm Smith. Or a colleague or something?

He went… he went to Microsoft.

But wasn’t it for the Nine MSN thing?

I don’t… well, it might have been, but I think it was…

Oh no it wasn’t Nine MSN, it was the MSN set-up and they did that porthole, I suppose as it is now being called and they wanted to do drama.

Yes. That would be right.

And that was the forerunner to what became Nine MSN. And you know it lasted 6 months because it was too expensive and they couldn’t find ways of… like there was not enough ad or sponsorship revenue out there to pay for the thing and it was meant to be free in the first instance. So they never actually built up enough audience or subscribers or whatever, well they weren’t subscribers at that stage, to make it happen so.

It seems… to see what 3 is doing at the moment, because 3 is…

That’s the Hutchinson, that’s the 3.

Yes. 3 is charging in a way like a subscription television operation with those little sort of 3 dollar increments for different kinds of programming; it would be fascinating to see whether it works for them but my god, it’s simple, as a consumer…

Yes and you don’t get a major surprise presumably.

You don’t get a major surprise but… but you kind of feel that you’re, to some extent, in control of it all.

Yes. I mean I think… I’ve had a feeling for the last 6 months that there is a whole new interest in content that hasn’t been around since the tech wreck, and I think that people are starting to explore some different business models and maybe the technology’s moved along and also you’re not trying to do all these silly things like you’ve got Sophia coming in and saying, I can do you 3 minutes of exclusive high quality animation…

For 12 thousand dollars.

For 10 to 12 a pop.

It would be interesting to see whether the Free-to-Airs get into it, because I mean they engaged with it in the sort of Big Brothers and things like that, they engaged with telephony.

Oh yes, and you know they made enormous amounts of money in that. And in a funny way, you know these little animations, they’re not that different to an interstitial, if you think about it, in production terms. I mean the content would be different but you know they’re like a little interstitial which the broadcasters actually do all the time.

Are they useful [xxxxx]?

So…yes, it’s…

When you think about 10 years away…?

Well I was trying to think back to ‘95 to see what I could remember about ‘95 to then think about what I did actually. I didn’t do very well in ‘95 I have to say.

Realistically, because I mean you know the whole sort of political and economical side of it as well, realistically, it’s question 2 and 3. What’s the best for you, and this is a personal one, what is the best realistic outcome that you would like to see? And what’s the worst?

Well I guess the best outcome, is that somehow you can collectively harness the visibility that Australia has or Australians have in things like that Hollywood film arena, because if you think about it the visibility that we have and the quality brand that we have, that is there, that we somehow transition that into whatever this new environment is. And I guess when people ask me in Los Angeles about why there is so many Australians, because I’ve been there when there’s been like 15 Australians in the Golden Globe nominations or whatever, and I think it’s because there’s been like 30 years of government money, so you’ve actually had NIDA, AFTRS, you’ve had the AFC, FFC, you’ve had the State government who have allowed people to actually learn their craft in a particular way.

That’s a real dividend.

I think so, because if you look at how Peter Weir, Phillip Noice, Bruce Beresford and then all those actors, you know Cate Blanchett started in a whole, you know a couple of Australian feature films, Paradise Road was in fact her first Hollywood foray.

Is that right?

Yes and then she went on and did, I don’t know but she did something between Elizabeth and Paradise Road but, and then she did Elizabeth and she was there! But you know she’d had this experience on the way through and you know there are attitudinal things about how Australians actually approach film-making production, which if we can keep those things where it’s risk taking, it’s can do, it’s… you know, to date hasn’t been bogged down in that whole celebrity baggage, that I think just makes people to just, you know it’s just so kind of weighty and expensive and you know people don’t take less! I mean just a quick anecdote, they have, for the second year they’ve done this Australia Day Ball in L.A., which is part of ‘G’day L.A. Week’, which is using the visibility of the Australians in Hollywood to try and sell Wine, Food, Fashion and this is the second year they’ve done it. 12 hundred seats, they could’ve sold another 500, it was the big-ticket item of the week. Cate Blanchett gave an award to Nicole Kidman, Olivia Newton-John gave an award to Keith Urban, Geoffrey Rush gave an award to Mel Gibson. And the thing about it – because I had some high profile people from the industry on my table – the thing about it, it was still a really Australian evening. It was very classy but it was fun, the speeches – people were very kind of open, they told silly stories like Geoffrey Rush and Mel Gibson had shared a house with no furniture when they were in their youth studying at NIDA and you know there’d obviously been wine and women, and you know they were doing tap impersonations and really silly things! And then the next night I watched a bit if the Golden Globes and the construct for this Hollywood, you know everyone went and danced afterwards. I had this senior guy from Warners on the dance floor with me and everyone’s kind of going, oh what’s this! So and that attitudinal stuff I think is really important in terms of the creative process and if we start losing that, if we start becoming too serious and too Hollywood focused, I think that we won’t be able to make that transition. So I think, I don’t know how you do that but obviously if you’ve got government money, you have more, you can take more risks than if you’re just trying to do a commercial model. And you know that from the ABC and SBS, you know the kinds of programming that came out of that model. Look at the BBC and Walking with Dinosaurs and that whole interactivity, you couldn’t have got a commercial model that would’ve taken the risk on Walking with Dinosaurs.

But it does actually raise the issue of public broadcasting now, I mean given that public broadcasting was a corner stone of the Free-to-Air system, I mean the [xxxxx] was developed, it presumably, to do what you’re talking about is actually… it has to continue to be a corner stone is some sense in whatever the environment is. But there’s something of very little will for that, either politically or internally.

I think there’s little will for it, and I mean the thing about the BBC is that it is such a strong, robust organisation. And the thing about the ABC is that it’s really very weak. And, you know… I don’t know, I won’t say that!

You can (laughs)!

Well under the Brian Johns era, it was about shedding things, and there wasn’t an understanding about the integration elements, there was a critical mass argument, there was also new platforms, interactivity, you know like spinning off the orchestras and spinning off Australian television and spinning off all these other things, and you know when the ABC actually started to go out and make strategic interventions under David, albeit sometimes in a fairly flawed way, the ABC, they’ve just contracted and now it’s just mired in one kind of shift fight after another.

That’s interesting. What you’re saying is that it has to keep growing…

Well it’s not making strategic, it’s just trying to survive.

Yes!

You know and I’ve been there and I know how hard those things are, but you know at a time… you know under David we had an attempt at Pay T.V, there was Australia Television, I was running international development where we were actually going and talking to all theses countries about our services, and so again there was a brand name, and for me it was kind of a continuum of expertise and a brand around the world, and to just decide that we’d no longer do the Aids stuff and we wouldn’t do this and we wouldn’t do that, you’ve lost that brand, and I actually thought that brand would have spin offs – and in a small way, it had already started to about programme sales and those other things that were more commercial – and I just think that that contraction period and all the subsequent kind of problems that the ABC has had, I don’t see now how it actually becomes a key player.

It seems to me that it’d be very hard, I mean I think in part that’s to do with the board too, and their response to Mansfield and all of that, and whatever role they had in [xxxxx]…

Well you know Brian had a small target strategy, and it…

Oh I know, I’m not, I’m not…

I know but I’m just saying that’s part of the problem of that small target strategy is that the ABC hasn’t done anything bold and interesting for 10 years.

I think…

You might think that’s too harsh but…

I do, I do actually because if the… I mean every thing’s a world of [xxxxx], if Shire hadn’t arrived at the time that he arrived, I mean there’s always a Shire that’s going to arrive at some stage, but if he hadn’t arrived at the time that he had arrived, we were actually well on the way to making sense of radio, television and online working together. But what was interesting about it, this is absolutely between you and I and that machine, what was interesting about it was that there was no will by the board, from the board to see that succeed, and I think that…

Well because they had another agenda.

Yes. Where Brian’s problem was, was that Brian was… where he was most unlike David was that Brian didn’t view himself as the owner of the organisation and I think he was, he was constantly on a back-foot about his own board, which for me – and he knows this because I’ve said it to him often enough – for me it was disastrous, because then you are in the hands of an endless line of manipulators.

Well yes, and you know but Brian also didn’t feel comfortable using the resources of the organisation to help him. You know really, just think he dismantled a whole lot of the structures that had actually helped deliver the MD the kinds of things that he wanted. And you know, trying to do things bilaterally which was the way Brian felt more comfortable. Just you know, no one ever knew what was going on, 5 people had been asked to do a version of the same thing, you know there was a degree of secrecy that crept into the place so, and the days when I was involved in strategy and I was running it for the organisation, you know you could get 20 people around the table and you’d say, this is what we want to do, this is kind of the back ground to it, this is the controversy associated with it, let’s work on it! I mean you have got some of the best minds in the country in the organisation and you’d argy bargy it around the table, but you’d actually have a sense of purpose because people would know what you were trying to solve for. And the place has just gone from one disaster after another, because when I was still there, I remember getting access to some of the documents that the BBC had done, and of course they do that licence renewal process so that they have to do kind of major strategic thinking to justify their licence fee. And the stuff they’d done on digital was just astoundingly good. It was some of the best stuff I’ve ever read, and that was just before I left and you know, I tried to get various people interested in it but nobody really was, and then I left. But the ABC hasn’t had any interest in doing that, and the politics have been so ugly for the ABC for the last 8 years or so that I agree with you, I personally have had to brief a lot of the people from the coalition, they’re not interested in a strong ABC.

No, I know and the difficulty right now, I mean, leave aside Brian’s thing because that was… well as I say, that was the best way of characterising it, it was a time of survival, but now you don’t get a sense of anybody actually realistically thinking even about it.

Well Russell is not going to have a strategic thought about that kind of stuff, he is an operations man.

So if there isn’t a part of the public broadcaster sitting in the middle of it, or sitting somewhere in the construct, and I mean powerful, not what we have now, is that replaceable in any sense on subscription television?

I don’t know, I mean there was that, was it Singleton floating that proposal for the Fourth Channel.

Fourth Channel yes it was, for Australia.

Which of course I was incredibly sceptical about.

Yes, well [xxxxx] at the end of that was a lot of horse racing.

END OF RECORDING

CD 2

Well you’ve got the same problem that we know that to do any of that kind of stuff is incredibly expensive. So you know, who is going to stump up the money if it is not government? I don’t know, I haven’t sort of thought about it.

What I was wondering, because I was looking at the stuff that OFCOM is on about at the moment, about starting a new public broadcaster, and you’ve probably read it.

No.

Oh, well they’ve come up with a fascinating idea in order to deal with the new environment with the free-to-airs, what they’re talking about is coming up with a new public broadcaster, which can be owned in part by any of the current free-to-airs, except the BBC, that they would… it would be funded to the tune of something like, I think it was something like ½ a billion pounds per annum.

Ah, so this is to be in competition with the [xxxxx], is it?

There are a couple of papers on the OFCOM side, it’s not so much in competition, but it’s to take up all the public service remit of the current commercial operators on free-to-air, to release them from their public service remit, so that they can actually, because in Britain they are feeding the competition with multiple platforms. So to release the current free-to-airs from their public service remit, so that they can go out and gallop, but to ensure the presence of the innovative, edgy, niche stuff, you establish a new public broadcaster which can be owned by anybody at all, except the BBC. And it’s quite specifically charged with the old Channel Four remit. And so that way you leave the big [xxxxx] on ABC, you build the public service content out of the commercials and into, and I just wondered whether that was the kind of thing that a government here might think about, given that there are two on the block at the moment, SBS and the ABC, imbalanced but they might think about that kind of model.

Well the thing about the U.K is that they have a much stronger commitment to public broadcasting than we do.

That’s true. Yes.

And, if you look at what the commercials do here, do they have much of a public service remit? I mean they have got some regulatory requirements.

[xxxxx] gets driven actually.

Yes. I don’t know, but again… Well I suppose that might be more attractive to government because you know in theory it’s a way of getting around the ABC and SBS so maybe they’d think they’d…

[xxxxx] deliberate.

You do a kind of reverse takeover, and pump up SBS and ditch the ABC.

I must say, I’ve never heard this discussed by…

Of there’s been various times when there’s been an attempt at a reverse takeover.

I know that, but I’ve never heard it discussed in terms of actually empowering the notion of public broadcasting, I’ve just heard it discussed in ways of…

Doing over the ABC?

[xxxxx] to me.

Well it’s possible, it’s possible, and I mean there will be pressure on public broadcasting in the coming 10 years, we know that. And whether it’s about putting those 2 organisations together or whether it’s about doing something more radical like you’ve suggested. And of course the ABC has so few people that want to stand up and defend it these days. When I was still there, there was this book written about when the CBC took budget cuts and they cut all their regional news services and stuff; that was called something like “Requiem for a Broadcaster” and it was the most depressing book because, they cut all the sort of specialist localised regional things, and they lost their power basis. You know they just became a poor version of the U.S broadcaster. And so they cut all expensive things, but that’s the thing that made them different, and we had that debate inside the ABC kind of ad nauseum. And it was a real problem for them because the Chair at the CBC was out, shortly after I read the book and we were in the midst of one of our fights with government, and he said, look we couldn’t get people on the street because you know, Roger Grant was organising all those picnic days and stuff and he said, we couldn’t get people out the door to come and protect the CBC anymore.

Which is a real disaster.

Mm, hmm, so…

The worst outcome?

The worst outcome?

The best outcome, I think is fascinating, that whole notion of the image.

Well it’s… [xxxxx] and the success, yeah.

That freedom from the trappings of it.

Mm, the worst outcome is that you have little ‘get eyes’ bits of Australian programming on you know one of 500 channels. And a completely dysfunctional ABC, I mean I am terribly concerned about what the government will do when they control the Senate. And that they will try and make it the National Party Broadcaster and not much of anything else.

Because they’re right up dominance alley!

Yeah, and so that you know the ABC, there was that whole thing of under even Austin for awhile, I think it was about having regard to the commercial broadcasters, so again you just become completely marginalised, so if the ABC exists, it will be marginalised, so they’d probably put the ABC and SBS together because they would want to save money. And once they’ve lost their power basis they just become very marginalised broadcasters, that you can probably find on a cable channel and whatever else they might feel they need to do. And that you don’t have any kind of content, Australian content on these new platforms. So it will just be the kind of U.S takeover that everyone has been fearing.

What… now you know government process massively better than I do, what does it actually take them, question 5 really is what is the significance of, no sorry… yeah 4, what do we have to do to reach your best outcome?

The… I’ll start off with the easy bit of the answer, where we’ve looked, you may know that we’ve had this whole development strategy at the FTO for the last couple of years which has done our own version of some of the things that have been happening in Europe, and I think Europe is the place to look at in terms of what might work and not work. So the media program which is part of the EC has looked at a whole lot of structural issues about trying to make sure there is an industry outside of Hollywood. And they’ve looked at it in a whole lot of different ways, they’ve looked at it in the context of business sustainability, and they’ve looked at it in the context of intensive development strategies, and they’ve looked at it in terms of the market and distribution, so they’ve had sort of broadly those 3 components.

Question Inaudible?

Yeah, it’s the media program, and it’s a 5 year program and they launched their latest one last May I think it was, and so, you know, they’ve done these kinds of hot housing things where you take 10 scripts, 10 internationally recognised film makers, you put them in a French Chateau and you have one on one sessions with each of the projects and each of the advisers over the course of the week, so when we set up Aurora, which you may or may not have head of…

Oh I’ve heard of it absolutely.

And Summersault was the first year, and it got finance, and it got into Cannes, standing ovation, sold to 20 territories, highest screen averages, sort of domestic distribution. So we’ve looked at how you actually help people in the current market place, and those kinds of intensive ways, because we’ve also done Enterprise, Enterprise Australia, Enterprise Tasman, which again is a customised version of what was happening in Europe, where you look, you get producers to think about running a business.

Yeah, well I was talking to Mark… skills over [xxxxx]!

Oh yeah, okay, he did Tasman.

Yeah, fantastic process.

So that was about business sustainability and you know one of the problems for the sector here is they tend to be food case producers, you know they are owner / operator, you know they’d be doing it out of their second bedroom kind of thing. And in Europe they actually had all these programs, which were about making companies be big enough to have a critical mass, and they had business planning initiatives and various other incentives that they gave people, to actually have a business. And we need to do some of that in Australia. And in fact, confidentially, we are going into a deal with Film Australia that’s being announced next week, where we’re going to give people some, like a line of credit of a hundred grand, a doco company to actually run as a business and facilities out of Film Australia. So there needs to be some structural changes to the industry.

Which is government driven?

Yeah I think in Australia it has to be government driven, I mean, I don’t know how those networks are thinking about repositioning themselves in 10 years and obviously you’ll go and talk to them.

Yes.

But you know a couple of years I tried to talk to them about the whole interactive new media environment, and apart from yeah, you know the reality TV feed back loop, they weren’t’ the slightest bit interested, it just wasn’t something that was on their radar.

And they hoped it wouldn’t be.

And they hoped it wouldn’t be. Well of course it’s a disaster in terms of ad revenue because you know, the… once you get TEVO and stuff, it’s just a disaster.

I know… which is really why all of this matters so much, but the business sustainability one, that’s fantastic, I mean I knew about the Enterprise thing but that’s fantastic, if you’re actually taking it to a stage further.

Well I looked at, and I’ve been here nearly 8 years and when I first arrived all the deals were like, this is for film, but the television stuff would be similar, FFC, Beyond or Southern Star, Globe. It was really easy and it was relatively easy to get the deals, and you know they just pumped through. And so about 6 years ago, that structure just fell apart pretty much, and now every time we do a deal, I mean some of the legal bills that we’ve had on these deals by the time you get you know 9 parties, you’re doing gap financing with the Royal Bank of Scotland, you’ve got Salem leased back with U.K. companies. It is so complex. Steven Norris from the U.K Film Council said to me last year, at Cannes that they now believe you have to have post-graduate qualifications to be a producer in the U.K. to deal with co-productions, which is the standard form of financing, so again that’s more a film than a television thing. But there are parallels, I’m sure, with the television financing and just how to, I mean to talk to the key people in U.S. companies about deficit financing for television series is kind of scary. So…

Is AFTA doing anything about that?

Well Malcolm, to his credit, because I’ve tried to get AFTA involved in thinking about business skills and they’ve just said, we’ve got no money. So, Malcolm got involved in that in the first enterprise, and he has been involved in both of them and they are actually setting up a business skills school thing. I don’t know I can’t quite remember what he calls it, but it’s a business skills component to what they do, because I know they are in the design phase of that at the moment. So I just think that those core, and this is top-of-the-head stuff because I haven’t thought it through enough, but those core organisations that delivered the success back from the 70s I think have to be some of the leading organisations like AFTRS, like NIDA, you know, the AFC, FFC. I can throw another can of worms in, I think there will be pressure for the AFC and the FFC to come together at some stage as well.

Really?

Yeah, yeah!

Through this government, or through… ?

I don’t know but I mean, because I was… I was, this is complete Cone of Silence, you know, I was…

Do you want that off?

No, I don’t care if you listen to it but you’ll have to eat the tape afterwards!

Fair enough!

The… I was very anti the FFC and AFC being put together. And when the kind of crisis for the industry struck a couple of years ago, and we were all having… well the funding body heads were having these kind of round tables to try and work out what it is we should do. The thing that struck me was because the AFC hasn’t had money for production, and their focus is professional development, they have no market place intelligence, and they could not engage in the debate in the way that the state agencies could, because whilst we are smaller, we are marketing, well see we have a different take on it…

Inaudible

Yeah, but we’re also marketing to the biggest producers in the world, so we’ve actually got an added dimension where I go and see the president of world wide production for Warner Bros and the Vice President for Paramount TV, and so we’re actually watching production trends in a way that even the FFC doesn’t do because we’re standing, and in fact if I was really thinking about it, all of those things should come together at a national level, that’s complete.

And that’s [xxxxx]!

But seriously when I look at the market intelligence that the FTO are getting and the access that we get in Los Angeles, to the people who are some of the biggest players in the world, and it’s that cross-over between the cultural mandate and the economic mandate, which all the governments want. And at a national level we don’t have that, so it’s absurd.

It’s strange isn’t it, I mean television’s almost the sort of last leg of the [xxxxx]. What I was going to ask you, coming exactly out of what we were saying with Jim, and again I can turn the machine off if you like, do you think there is that level of sophistication and thinking about this industry, or that there could be, any Federal government.

No.

Either side. Sorry, not Federal government, in the Federal Parliament?

No, but there is a crisis heading towards us, and sooner or later people will want to be doing something radically different and I just… you know, if you are actually talking about kind of where we need to get to in 10 years time, that is a key issue for me because the policy drivers are completely fragmented, and there are you know, to use that classic silo terminology is just… and you’ve also got a bit of a –I’m using all these clichés – a bit of a Fortress Australia too with the federal funding bodies, because they only look at Australian production. And when I came here, Fox Studios was just starting and so I’ve had a version of that theme, and whilst I’m a really strong supporter of the Australian industry, I also see other things about having that economic production.

You are talking about sustainability?

Yep. And if you are talking about Brand Australia, the fact that we’ve had every… there has just been this wave of people who are now succeeding in the global production sector. Like Rose Burn, is the latest one, you know, and she was in a couple of little films that we’ve funded that were pretty quirky in some respects, but she won Best Actress at…

[xxxxx] is very important.

At… Oh, she was My Mother Frank, Goddess of ‘67 where she won best actress at Venice or Berlin, I can’t remember it was one of them.

Yes.

And she has now got, like she’s just got some fairly serious part in… I don’t know whether it’s a Steven Spielberg but I was reading about it in the Trades the other day, and so the thing about Australia is it’s not just a cyclical thing like we are able to produce these people.

Which is why you [xxxxx] to sustain…

Yeah, so to do that, you know you still need to have, at a national level you need to have some key agencies who can actually make those things happen and…

That’s the sort of priority thing just to keep the whole thing on?

Well I think if you’re talking about the pressures 10 years out, I reckon within the next couple of years, we need to be a lot smarter about the strategic direction nationally, and again you‘ve got this complete disconnect because the AFC is doing the policy stuff, and you know I have great admiration for what they did during the Free Trade Agreement and other things, but again they are completely disconnected from the market place.

Yes.

And there is a bit of a fortress mentality in there, and if we’re actually going to have to deal with the Free Trade Agreement and all of the things that that brings with it, you’ve got to have the policy closer to the market place. I haven’t actually articulated that in that way before, but there you go! But it has worried me for quite a while.

Yeah, that’s a beaut drawing of the whole thing.

And, because you know, if we are going to play this game cleverly, we’ve got to think about all those different platforms, and… sorry, this is kind of broader than your television thing, but…

It isn’t really, because no one knows better than you they are all interlinked.

Well they will be and, you know, we hear stories about the Direct to DVD market. What are we doing about the DVD market here? like where’s the debate. We need to look at the mobile platforms, we need to look at what‘s happening with the Internet, we… you know there isn’t… I don’t think, I find it really frustrating because I try and do this stuff because at a national level amongst the funding bodies we’re not having strategic discussions about this stuff and I’ve tried a couple of times to get them going and they just don‘t happen. So…

Well I hope that… actually this process is something that might be useful to you because you’ll get a feed back from us, probably somewhere around about late April / May about everything that I’ve done, and all of the issues that I’ve garnered through this, plus whatever we’ve got out of a whole lot of text research and [xxxxx]. And it really is a huge cross-section of [xxxxx] in the industry, so you get that feed-back to you, then if you have the time to do either 1 half day or 2 half day industry sessions with us, where we’re actually trying to put a set of priorities to those issues and put them into a matrix.

No, I’d love to.

That’s yours at the end to do with what you like, and then if we do the whole project, if the AFC funds it, every text we’ve released, that’s [xxxxx] will really start to pay.

And even just another thought that has popped into my head, you know I remember reading articles years and years ago about films succeeding without having actors, well it’s happening all the time now. And if you think about Sophia doing her animations that cheaply, then maybe we should be looking at a major push into animation. I mean again it’s an area where you know, we use that expression ‘punch above our weight’, but there’s not enough critical mass and the people that do well kind of get whisked off, but again there is not a lot of policies that are actually helping the animation sector and I know at various stages – I think SPARS got an Animation Committee together and, you know, they don’t… they’re not allowed to fit in with 10 BA and there is a whole lot of things that…

Which is strange because if nothing else, I mean the games industry as I understand is the second biggest audio/visual industry. And that’s pure animation. I don’t know how big Australia’s intervention in that world is, but I think it’s clearly there are signals for the…

A good person to talk to about that would be Rachelle Dickson, do you know Rachelle?

I know the name.

She’s really interesting, because she has done everything. And I can get you her details.

Is she EX or CK?

EX. She worked at Film Australia, she’s been a producer, she’s actually a real tech head, she’s done Telecom stuff, she did quite an interesting report on the situation in New South Wales I don‘t know whether that was just games or whether it was games and interactive content, I’ve forgotten now.

Inaudible.

This was state and regional. And if you want me to ask, I’ll see if they could give you a copy of the report. Oh, it might even be Colin Griffith who did it. Anyway I’ll find out. So, yeah there’s some reports around about that stuff, but she’s great because she actually is somebody who knows about convergence and sort of plays in the space. So she’d be worth you kind of talking to her about some of this stuff.

Just on that animation thing, in general for 2 second, this is about New South Wales, it’s about Sydney, this is the centre of broadcasting in Australia, are you getting a sense from – and this is open question – are you getting a sense from other parts on the world [xxxxx] the investment in bricks and mortar and large standing armies of staff such as broadcasters, they’ve tended to use in the past broadcasters [xxxxx], is that model changing as more virtual technologies are allowing virtual practices to [xxxxx]? Is that model shifting, are people starting… are broadcasters becoming smaller around the world, are production groups becoming smaller.

Yeah, I think so.

Is that ramification here or is it really just what happens when people change from one hand to another?

No I think… I mean I don’t know what the staff at the ABC is anymore, but I know in the time that I was there, which was about 6 years, the staff numbers have dropped about 10% to 15%, and there’s been an expansion of services, so it wasn’t just a reduction in numbers, there was also an expansion in terms of output. And I’m sure that that’s happening everywhere else around the world. But you know, the technology is going to have… I mean I have just got OS10 on my Apple laptop and it’s got I-movies on it, you know you can cut my own movies if I feel like it and do my own music. I’ve never actually found the time to do any of those things but…

But when you’re on holidays, you’re going to be busy…

But you know I mean the technology is there now and I guess the thing that is going to be another interesting strategic issue – I mean kind of digressing on this a bit – but when the downturn happened in Australia, people still wanted to come to Sydney because it was a glamorous place and it had really top quality technicians, crew, whatever. So again I think you are going to have – and it’s almost that polarisation when I was talking about the low budget stuff and then the high budget stuff and not much in between – you know if Australia wants to succeed, it’s got to still have those kind of high-end people. And you know there will be a lot of pressure and that’s the other about the intersection with the regulation – if you don’t have regulation, all you’re going to end up doing is the crappy low-end stuff, and I think what’s happened in the advertising sector since they deregulated ads, and stopped… then that you had to do 80% in Australia is a really good analogy, you know they are doing tyre commercials, there is all that kind of stuff as opposed to… you know, and then we see the Americans fly in, doing a 10 million Mercedes commercial, you look at the Baz Lhurman / Nicole Kidman Chanel ads, where they spent probably the equivalent of about two feature films just doing one ad, well one campaign. So I think there are those challenges where the technology is enabling so many people with less and less skill levels, see that’s my concern about things like reality TV because that actually takes your base away, you know there is a whole lot of hours of television that require no script, no high-end production, no multiple camera.

That’s really critical [xxxxx].

No.

If you ruled, for the last question, if you ruled his world, you‘d think that the [xxxxx] of what you’ve said about driving forward the policy understanding of the issues that you are facing, the issues that you [xxxxx] here, what other things you’d be doing, I mean that just makes enormous sense to me, busting to get it through the heads of those in power.

Well for me, I mean in one sense the formula is not difficult, you need to have all of those things I said about policy and organisational focus and those things, and you’ve got to have some resources to actually let people experiment, and a version of that has been the model that’s got us to this point currently, and if the market place is going to change so radically, and then it’s a question of have you got the money to play in those spaces, with things like the Free Trade Agreement, if there isn’t a capacity for Australians to experiment and if we are so small that, you know, like Hutchinson said, we couldn’t have done the micro movies without the PFTC putting in the money. And if you’ve got all these new start-up things, if there is not some government money which allows there to be the experimentation, it will just be what comes out of the U.S.

Yeah.

And I suppose the only other, you know I was just thinking about how the Europeans have kind of banded together, you know we’re doing lots more with New Zealand which you know the two minnows against the whales, but again we need to look at structural solutions and places where we have some cultural similarities to think about whether there are ways you can you know get more of a critical mass…

Rather a long and endless [xxxxx]. Thank you.

All right.

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