While commercial networks are reluctant to lift license fees for children’s drama, producers are also gravitating towards animation over live action because it is is cheaper to produce. There are concerns drama is only being greenlit where it can be sold internationally with a partner such as ZDF in Germany, putting stories that are Australian-driven at risk.
“Some of the commercial broadcasters are now refusing to pay any more for local children’s drama than they paid 25 years ago and they are also suggesting to producers that in moving their content to the multi-channels, they will have to pay even less for this content in the future,” said ACTF CEO Jenny Buckland.
“This comes at a time when the Commonwealth Government has just given them a permanent 50% reduction in the licence fees they pay to Government in order to use the broadcasting spectrum. Although this bonus came with no strings attached, it was supposed to be in order to enable them to invest more in local content, but despite this, they spend less than 2% of their programming costs on children’s drama.”
The ACTF is now calling for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to set a minimum license fee that is paid for children’s drama to ensure quality live action drama is produced.
It also wants ACMA to simplify the advertising classification procedures to ensure they continue to provide protections for children but eliminate unnecessary administrative barriers to having ads classified for a range of purposes at once. And it wants the tax rebate for children’s television to be the same as feature film production – 40% (where the broadcaster is paying a minimum license fee as stipulated by ACMA).
“The increase in distribution points for children’s content is placing additional pressure on Australian children’s content producers, as fragmenting audiences result in lower licence fees and producers are increasingly competing against well-resourced international children’s television brands with high production values and extensive multi-platform offerings ” says Buckland.
Commercial broadcasters only need to screen 32 hours of first release Australian children’s drama a year. Animation counts as children’s drama, but because it is usually co-produced with international partners it is more readily financed and able to be offered to broadcasters for lower prices. This means that the commercial broadcaster schedules for children are in danger of being saturated by wall to wall cartoons. Unsurprisingly, there has been more animation produced than live action drama in five out of the last six years.
The success of first release drama such as Dance Academy on the ABC shows the reach and engagement Australian content can achieve, but on the commercial networks, Australian children’s drama is not experiencing the same type of success with audiences, due to less than optimal scheduling and promotion – which the research highlights as key to the broadcast success of a program.
“Live action children’s drama has almost become a victim of its own success. It has sold well overseas and attracted international finance. But the global economic downturn, fragmented television market and strong Australian dollar have impacted on that. And the more programs are pushed to appeal to an international market, the less distinctive they become for a local audience. It is not out of the question to ask for more support for a local children’s television industry. After all, tax payers are stumping up $21 million to attract a one-off big budget Disney feature film (Twenty Leagues Under the Sea) to shoot in Australia next year” says Buckland.