Content Cafe


Industry Voices: Michael Hawkins AM

by Content Cafe — February 24, 2021

Each month we hear from industry insiders in Australia and abroad to get their take on content piracy. Is content protection improving? How do we stop piracy? How does Australia compare to the rest of the world? These are some of the questions we'll be exploring with leaders across the content industry.

Welcome Michael, please introduce yourself.

My name is Michael Hawkins. I had been a cinema exhibitor for many years, and now I represent cinema owners of Australia as Executive Director of NACO, the National Association of Cinema Operators – Australasia. I am a director of Creative Content Australia and Screen Australia. I have chaired Screen Queensland and until recently, chaired the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and Academy – which recognised cinematic excellence of films made in the 70 countries and regions making up the vast Asia Pacific. APSA creates global awareness of films through its association with the MPA and UNESCO. I have also dabbled in production.

What are you watching and recommending to friends at the moment?

Internet is not great on the farm, so I tend not to stream. Instead, I have rediscovered DVD’s and am at present binge-watching Boston Legal from the start and am halfway through. The American elections inspired me to re-watch all seven series of the West Wing, taking us back to a more comfortable time in politics. If I had reliable internet, I would watch Yellowstone that just about every friend I have, well both of them, have recommended to me as something I must watch. And I am rather keen to watch News of the World.

Does piracy affect your business or that of your stakeholders? 

This question makes for massive understatement. The impact of piracy has significant financial consequences for every step of the film cycle. Producers, distributors and exhibitors are denied deserved reward for their creativity and the risk they undertake. Agencies are denied the return on investments they have made in film projects. Audiences are denied the opportunity to see films on big screens in immersive auditoria as the theatrical run is significantly reduced.

What do you think is the most significant impact of piracy on the creative industry?

Loss of financial reward is probably the obvious impact, but I do believe the more severe impact is the sense of disrespect creatives must feel to have their works stolen – the violation of their right to ownership of copyright or licence and to control how they share their productions with audiences.

What is the biggest challenge in the fight against piracy?

Education – that there is so much free content available online that some people are unable to determine the boundaries – that the belief of seeing what you want, when you want and how you want, transcends the boundaries of copyright.

How do you think Australia is measuring up in tackling piracy?

Legislation that our Government has enacted, and subsequent amendments and extensions, to enable site blocking of piracy sites, following a sustained campaign by very committed and passionate cinephiles such as Graham Burke AO, and his colleagues in the film industry, is as empowering a piece of legislation as is available anywhere in the world. In many respects, Australia has pioneered the anti-piracy campaign, calling it for what it is, theft!

Do you have any personal experiences or anecdotes about piracy?

Apart from having a university assignment copied by a fellow student, fortunately not. I continue to be amazed at the speed of piracy, which I feel is matched only by the speed of the spread of this pandemic. Ironic in a way – both an unfortunate disease. I recall watching a clip about how quickly a cam-corded copy of a film can be matched to a sound recording taken on a drive-in FM receiver, paired and copied in Russia and disseminated throughout the world – in a matter of hours. Like Covid-19 – scary!

What excites you about the future of your industry sector?

Cinema’s future is underscored by the position it finds itself in at the height of this pandemic – preparedness by people to want to attend cinemas notwithstanding the paucity of content. I am excited by the results coming out of Japan and China, as late as the Chinese New Year weekend with record attendances and box office of $1.2b over a single weekend, spread across multiple titles. And I am excited about the success of Australian films during this period, audiences are taking the opportunity to see the best we have to offer, four Australian films in the top five box office hits last week was both exciting and encouraging! And finally, the reduction in Hollywood content has seen audiences find Asia Pacific films, including Academy Award-winning titles from South Korea, Iran and Israel. We are appreciating diversity of stories and film making styles.

For more information about NACO’s work visit 

Before you go check out last month’s interview with Lori Flekser