The argument about local content points on multichannels is a complex one, but will have a renewed push after Free TV’s submission to the Convergence Review calls for local shows on ELEVEN, GO!, GEM, 7TWO, 7mate and ONE to count towards annual totals.
The Australian reports that the Free TV submission argues that, “With Australia transitioning to a fully digital environment by the end of 2013, this kind of regulatory distinction becomes irrelevant and there is scope to consider additional flexibility in how broadcasters meet cultural objectives.
“We need to debate how we can provide more flexibility to enable broadcasters to serve the public interest in a way that does not put us at a competitive disadvantage in comparison to other platforms or delivery mechanisms.”
Public interest is far more important than any competitive disadvantage by private sector media.
In principle it would be good to see more local content on channels that are smothered by US and UK content. Steps to encourage this would be a positive thing.
At the moment Neighbours attracts no local drama points on ELEVEN, although TEN knew this at the time it made the move, and was probably optimistic the landscape might have changed by now. On Monday, the soap pulled its best audience this year on the channel, an impressive 455,000 viewers -close to the average it was attracting in its final days on TEN.
But there are risks in allowing such shows to count -principally that it does not lead to a watering down of quality Aussie dramas. If dramas can attract points on multichannels what’s to stop networks filling our primary channels with more US content and playing B grade dramas on multichannels just to get the points?
If a drama isn’t rating on a primary channel it could be sent to a multichannel to die a slow death. Who remembers Blue Heelers ending its long run on a Saturday night? McLeod’s Daughters suffered the same fate.
Requiring first run drama on primary channels in primetime ensures quality controls -if the show isn’t well-produced it won’t rate, and a network will have to stump up with a better product.
We have already seen what happened when New Zealand content was allowed to count as Australian.
Some networks have also run little-known Aussie films on Saturday nights in summer just to top up their points. It’s legal and technically they are doing nothing wrong.
But in their defence, we are also enjoying a string of local drama investments. This is because it is well-made Australian drama that resonates with viewers. So they must be preserved not diluted.
The government will have to devise a working formula that does not compromise the quality of local drama, delivered to a broad audience on Free to Air television.
One option might be to allow local content points for some genres, but keep points for Drama and Children’s television on Primary Channels.
The Screen Producers Association has previously welcomed the notion of drama on multichannels as ways of supporting emerging talent but is aware of wider repercussions by opening up the floodgates.
“We recognise that it won’t be Drama at $750,000 an hour because of the economics of those channels. It will probably be different forms of Drama. It might be more comedy focused or experimental, as a way of seeing whether programmes might work to be brought over to a primary service,” SPAA president Geoff Brown has previously stated.