Children’s TV drama facing tough times

Dance AcademyAustralian’s children’s television live action drama is facing perilous times according to new research conducted by Screen Australia and the The Australian Children’s Television Foundation.

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.


  1. I’m glad to see this issue being finally being raised – but it’s not limited to kids. Senator Conroy just handed FTA TV licence fee relief to the tune of $250M and did not secure a commitment to any additional local content – including kids drama. Even the FTA Networks were surprised at the lack of pushback on this issue from Canberra. Nine’s appointment of Peter Costello to their Board is blatantly political and the rumours about John Howard supposedly being approached to chair Free TV is about destroying local content requirements. It’s high time the general viewing public became aware of how much danger the local content industry is facing in the fragmenting market. Network television is facing the same decimation as the print industry and all the same things will happen. Workforces will be wiped out and quality Australian drama and kids will all but disappear. The crisis in kids live-action drama has been a long time coming – and will only be fixed with direct government intervention.

  2. Paul Fimmel

    Children’s Television has had a very proud heritage, many great shows have been produced over the years, some even winning awards overseas.
    Animation has become the new trend in recent years due to it’s cost. But the one thing that is truly missing is syndication of locally made Children’s Television. There is a massive stockpile of locally produced content, and so little of it is being screened, it is being dominated by imported shows from the UK and Canada.
    One thing that has definitely changed in the last ten years is the lack of space for local programming. Before the creation of Sunrise, and the extension of the Today show (both shows now screen seven days a week), there was plenty of time for screening local content in the morning, and now with virtually bumper-to-bumper news every afternoon, kids programming is being robbed of those precious timeslots when kids get home from school and watch their favourite cartoons.
    The kids have a right to watch programming for them, they don’t want to know the news before the actual news comes on. If the Federal or State Governments don’t do anything about this soon, the children’s television industry in this country is finished.

  3. Well done to the ACTF for raising this. The reality is that the commercial broadcasters have for years looked at every possible way to buy cheap programs to fulfill its drama quota and have actively lobbied government to get rid of it. So there has been a mass of cheap generic animation made as international co-productions that the networks contribute a mere fraction of the budget to. The only way to stop this is to for ACMA to for once have some guts and set a minimum licence fee. And if the Coalition gets in a slashes the ABC then the kid’s live action drama here will also decline. The politician are full of rhetoric when it comes to kid’s television but bow to the commercial networks every time and do nothing. Thank God the ACTF remains an advocate for quality, local, children’s television.

  4. What an interesting article, David! Thanks so much for this.

    It seems like a tricky situation when networks don’t raise license fees, and so production companies are left with trying to create financially feasible programs that don’t necessarily reach the heights that they should.

    I wonder if much of this has to do with the introduction of ABC4kids and ABC3. They seem to dominate the multichannel ratings, and perhaps commercial networks feel like that leaves them with little room to maneuver for their own children’s programming.

    We have had a long and proud history of children’s television – and it seems ages since we got a decent Jonathan M. Shiff one. It should be something that networks continue to support. Commercial networks have always been good at producing shows for an older audience. I still have very, very, very fond memories of Thunderstone as a early teenager. That was fantastic.

  5. Maev....Sydney

    I know it is not the one and only issue with this problem…but the high Aussie dollar….for such an extended period…is causing grief to many industries.

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