Free to Air commercial networks no longer want to produce Children’s TV arguing that shows like MasterChef, Australian Ninja Warrior and The Bachelor bring families together.
Appearing recently at a Senate Hearing Committee into Australian Broadcasting Content, Free TV was asked specifically if they feel they have any obligation to contribute to children’s television in some way?
Bridget Fair, CEO of Free TV Australia said, “Well, no. We actually feel that it’s no longer commercially sustainable for us to do so and it’s not actually delivering any cultural benefit, which was the purpose of these (Children’s) quotas. They are intended to be providing something to our child audiences. If they’re not watching them, then clearly they can’t be benefiting from them. So we just don’t see a role for those quotas any further.”
Networks also reject the idea of contributing to an industry production fund for children’s TV.
“We are in the business of trying to run sustainable entities. We make significant contributions to Australian content—as I said, over $1.6 billion in the last financial year—and we’re trying to do that whilst at the same time facing greater competition, declining revenues and higher costs. So we would not favour something which added to those costs, particularly where we weren’t necessarily going to be benefiting from the output,” said Fair.
“We haven’t stepped away from our commitment to children”
Free TV said their members were producing hundreds of hours of children’s programming every year that wasn’t being watched.
“That can’t be a good thing. We haven’t stepped away from our commitment to children in the sense that we are providing a lot of entertainment programming that the child audience is interested in watching—and the ratings numbers support that. So we’ve certainly still got that commitment.”
Fair added, “Things like Ninja Warrior and even MasterChef. Older kids and some people are watching shows like The Bachelor, which may not be our taste necessarily here. These programs are often the starting point for conversations in families about how relationships function or other things. So there’s a whole array of programming.”
But asked about the classification of such programmes, Free TV was unclear.
“I’m also not sure, but I will check. Obviously they’re very family-friendly programs in the main,” said Fair.
Asked by Senator Urquhart, “I would have thought that The Bachelor was maybe M, but I don’t know. I’ve got no idea, so if you could let me know.”
“We can come back to you with some of those. Obviously something like The Bachelor doesn’t usually get shown at 7.30; it tends to be a later slot,” Fair incorrectly replied.
But the Australian Children’s Television Foundation said shows such as Ninja Warrior were no replacement for shows such as Dance Academy, Mako Mermaids and Mortified which are rediscovered by new audiences every 4 years.
“As adults, we expect to watch drama made especially for us. Why don’t children get the same?”
Bernadette O’Mahoney, ACTF Head of Development and Production, said, “Taking Ninja Warrior as an example, the things that those adults are doing in that show aren’t things that children necessarily can do or should be trying to do. They’re great and they’re entertaining but they’re not giving them role models for the next step of their life and things like that.
“As adults, we expect to watch drama made especially for us. Why don’t children get the same? Why shouldn’t they expect to have drama made especially for them showing their peers on screen and the things that are actually relevant to their life, their school life, their friendship circles, their changing bodies—all those sorts of things. As adults we expect that.
“I think that’s the difference between those sorts of shows and what we’re talking about in children’s drama. There’s nothing wrong with that other family entertainment, but it’s not children’s television, it’s not made especially for them and it’s not reflective of their world and their life.”
“Are shows like The Bachelor appropriate for teenage girls?”
Fiona Donovan from the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance agreed Reality TV was no substitute for Children’s television.
“Children’s television isn’t just for kids who can watch MasterChef. What about a two year old or a four year old?,” she said. “MasterChef isn’t an appropriate television show for them. How do you speak to teenage girls? Are shows like The Bachelor appropriate for teenage girls? Is that modelling good behaviour? When people make a children’s show or a young adults show they think about what’s appropriate and what message they are trying to tell. I don’t know that The Bachelor, MasterChef or Ninja Warrior are modelling good behaviour for children. It’s good to see what adults do, but is it right for children? I don’t think it’s for us—it’s for parents to decide what’s appropriate, but it’s giving them a selection of things to choose from.
Actor Matt Day also underlined he importance of training, Children’s TV provides to performers and filmmakers.
“I started off on children’s TV when I was 14 years old, 30-something years ago. I’d hate to see people denied those same opportunities to learn, really—which is what I did on the job; I wasn’t trained professionally—to have a career and to be able to do so in Australia without leaving the country, which so many people seem to have to do these days just to get by,” he said.
“These are stories that go global and are really desired”
Matt Deaner, CEO from Screen Producers Australia urged for tweaks to current regulations, rather than see them discarded entirely.
“We’d like to see not necessarily a reduction of certainly C drama—we think that that is really, really critical as a way of investing in audiences and getting children engaged in stories that are reflective of themselves,” he said.
“From our business point of view, these are stories that go global and are really desired. The show that one of our members Jonathan Shiff’s done with Network TEN over the years has been Mako Mermaids, and there have been a whole heap of variations of that and they have sold into so many territories across the world. They’re great ways of exploring our identity both here and also globally. So I just think we miss a whole beat.
“If we remove all of these players from the market, all of a sudden—at the moment in the current environment—you’d have the ABC as then the sole commissioner of children’s content with no consistent obligation on it to have to do anything really in terms of hours and output, and all of a sudden you’ve got no children’s TV if you haven’t really thought this through. We wouldn’t want to see that there’s a holus-bolus removal of exercise for children.”