This week Screen Australia claimed Australian content was being smothered by international product.
Overseas content has gone up 154% since 2008 while Aussie content has shrunk from 52 per cent of total hours in 2008, to 38 per cent in the first six months of 2011.
Their Press Release was picked up by a number of print media and radio.
As a result, the perception was that Australian content is suffocating to death, when it fact production is buoyant.
The overall proportion has shrunk only because we have multichannels that are full of US and UK shows. So the slice of pie hasn’t really shrunk, it’s just that the pie itself got a lot bigger.
Earlier this month ACMA issued data that showed Seven, Nine and TEN all exceeded the minimum requirements for Australian content in 2010 as well as the minimum local drama required on their primary channels.
The last Drama Production report by Screen Australia (for 2009-10) showed that the total hours of produced television was 564 hours of TV, down from 646 hrs in 2008-09. But it also found that expenditure for Australian TV drama for adults increased.
FreeTV Australia, which represents Seven, Nine and TEN predictably hit back at the claims. But they had some valid points.
In a statement it said: “Its methodology is misleading at best. Its suggestion that you simply multiply the broadcast hours by the number of digital channels and then say the Australian voice is “watered down” is missing the point.
“Every year commercial television broadcasters produce over 500 hours of original Australian drama and invest over $950 million a year in original Australian programming including not only drama, but children’s programs, documentaries, sport, news and current affairs. The advent of the multi channels has not changed this.”
At the heart of Screen Australia’s argument is that multichannels have no local content quotas. TEN knows all about that problem, currently screening Neighbours on ELEVEN for 0 Drama points. Presumably it thought the government would have allocated these by now, but it hasn’t…
There are still defensible reasons why Drama points are allocated to first run drama in primetime on primary channels. If they are suddenly equitable across all channels, there is a risk that low rating dramas, or cheaply-made dramas, will be shoved off to multichannels and replaced by even more international content. The current model ensures that networks aim for quality local drama in order to rate and deliver eyeballs to advertisers.
True, by the end of 2013 it will be a different playing field, which is what the Convergence Review is considering in part.
Senator Conroy has previously said there are no current plans to add quotas on multichannels. But when it is introduced it should be in such a way, as the Screen Producers Association of Australia has proposed, of encouraging emerging drama producers. Points could be tied to production spend, not to hours. This could prevent networks making cheap drama simply to top up their points.
There is much to consider.
Australian stories told by Australian voices (preferably over New Zealand voices) are still the ultimate target.
But let’s not blur the argument by suggesting networks have dropped the ball on Australian production.
Downton Abbey notwithstanding, everybody knows that MasterChef, The Block, Packed to the Rafters, Underbelly, Paper Giants, The Gruen Transfer are all performing better than shows like Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Desperate Housewives, and Hawaii Five-0.