IF IT looks like a television program, sounds like a television program then, in all likelihood, it should be treated like one. So concluded an independent panel into the future of the media that says Australian programs should be protected by new quotas and that companies offering TV-like content over the internet should not escape those commitments.
Free-to-air TV networks will be expected to increase the amount of drama, documentaries and children's programs they make by 50 per cent, under a central proposal put forward by the convergence review panel. These are the more expensive formats. Overall the networks will be expected to devote a minimum 55 per cent of their airtime to Australian-made programs each year.
And, for the first time, they will be able to air them on their digital multichannels, thus ending the anomaly whereby Neighbours is deemed not to be an Australian show simply because it runs on Network Ten's digital channel, Eleven.
New media players will also have to dig into their pockets. Companies that the new ''super regulator'' deems to be ''content service enterprises'' - those with a significant presence on the internet - can either invest a percentage of their revenue into making ''professional television-like content'' or make programs that contribute to a general pool.
''Exactly how they go about measuring that will be an interesting test for the new regulator,'' Michael Reede, a partner at law firm Allen & Overy, said. Google, Apple and Australia's largest provider of internet services, Telstra, are exempt because they fail to generate more than $50 million a year from Australian-sourced content and a monthly audience of 500,000 users.
Geoff Brown, the executive director of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, said: ''All in all, it has reaffirmed the value of Australian content for audiences and recognised the importance of producers of Australian content in the new digital landscape where content can come from anywhere.''