Networks look to dump Drama quotas

Commercial TV networks want to abandon Adult Drama and Children’s TV quotas, as part of “de-regulating” their quota obligations.

Free TV Australia, which represents Seven, Nine, 10 and regional broadcasters Prime, Southern Cross, WIN TV & Imparja, has made a submission to the government’s Supporting Australian stories on our screens options paper.

Networks are recommending the abolition of “unsustainable” quotas because audiences are dropping while costs are rising.

They support maintaining an overall Australian content quota  but recommend this be flexible across both primary and multichannels, as well as online platforms such as 9Now, 7Plus and 10Play.

Free TV cites the example of Packed to the Rafters drawing close to 2 million viewers metro viewers in 2008. By 2018 and 2019, no drama series had an average metro audience in excess of 1 million. Across the same period the average cost per hour drama has increased from $500,000 to over $900,000 per hour.

It argues, “While Australian dramas add texture and depth to the free-to-air broadcasters schedules, the quotas need to be removed to allow broadcasters to balance this with other content so that they can allocate their resources effectively to the benefit of their audiences.”

Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair said there has been no significant change in Australian content regulation for almost 20 years.

“Free TV broadcasters remain strongly committed to Australian content, including news and current affairs, entertainment, sport and drama. In fact, viewing figures tell us that Australian programming is more important than ever before. That’s why we spend around $1.6 billion dollars every year and why 85% of our programming budgets are spent on Australian programming,” she said.

“Australians love watching Australian programs on their Free TV services. But the current rules are undermining our ability to invest in the local content that our audiences want to watch, and locking us in to delivering quota mandated programs that are increasingly failing to find an audience.”

Networks also want to dump Children’s TV obligations arguing these are attracting average audiences of less than 1000 children while costs continue to rise.

But Free TV makes no mention of diminishing audiences being in any way tied to broadcasts times. Children’s TV is frequently played on multichannels on weekend mornings, while Adult drama often gets a 9pm start time due to Reality TV programming.

As an alternative to the current system, Free TV has proposed a combined points system for Documentary, Children’s and Adult drama while ‘first release’ should count towards a sub-quota if it is the first time it has been broadcast on free-to-air.

“We need to get away from a regulatory approach that compels broadcasters to compete with each other, not only in relation to the same type of content, but in the same time-slots, and regardless of whether there is an audience for that content or not,” Ms Fair said.

“The regulatory framework should incentivise broadcasters to provide a more diverse slate of content in response to audience demands.

“A strong production sector needs a healthy and sustainable commercial broadcasting industry. As advertiser funded businesses, we have to be able to deliver the programs that audiences want to watch.”

It is also opposed to closing a New Zealand loophole which proposes content to be “first release worldwide.”


  1. They only have themselves to blame – Aussie networks have treated drama appallingly in the last decade as they put their eggs in the reality TV baskets and played stupid games over start times. As someone else said drama has thrived around the world in the last few years, including on free to air TV, and Australia has been left behind.

  2. The problems with Aussie drama, and there are many, start with script. And who has iron-clad control over story, tone and character? The networks. The writer of any show has to pass their work before the network executives, the same revolving door committee who have the power to order changes to everything, no matter how big or small. They’re the real reason our current range of dramas are so unimaginative and small, not the writers. No wonder there’s such a small audience. And recommissioning an endless aft of old, tired shows, which is all they’re now doing, is driving a stake through the heart of the local audience. It’s as if their mission is to prove there’s no audience by producing the oldest, stalest stuff possible.

  3. Terrible idea. The FTA TV landscape in Australia is bad enough as it is.

    In terms of the dramas themselves, we need to encourage and foster the writing in this country because it is severely lacking. I watch a lot of it, and we just don’t do it well — Wentworth and other faves included. They’re good to a point but absolutely nothing we produce could stand next to drama series from the US or UK. The streaming services here are in a position to change this course.

    We used to be good at procedural shows, but now we focus too much on personal relationships in our stories and never very far outside the box. As awful as it sounds, we make TV for dumb-dumbs. That was fine 20 years ago but audiences have outgrown it. We deserve better, and we’ve found it elsewhere.

    • Wentworth is better than Orange is the New Black on a sliver of the budget. But budget is the key, we don’t spend as much on writing, development, pilots.. and we also don’t get the dud US shows.

      • budget is not important the main thing is who makes a good casting. Wentworth without PR was able to conquer the whole world. and becoming the best drama in the world where all the characters became like family. orange bad Comedy lasted for 15 minutes.that’s why there are a lot of great shows in Australia . you don’t have the political correctness that the us has.

      • Wentworth is the best drama we have but, sorry, it isn’t seeing OITNB even during its weaker seasons. I do agree budget is key though. Money needs to start in the writers’ room.

        • a lot of remakes in the us are shot with a big budget and what is it better? orange garbage and all of the 15 minutes the heroine had sex what is there interesting . in the us, they don’t know how to shoot Comedy now. and drama. they are campaigning . and not a story. the budget is not important often. I can list a large list of good Australian TV series. I can’t come from the USA.

  4. It is strange how the big explosion in drama production worldwide (both streaming and free to air channels) has singularly failed to happen here. Without government subsidies nations with comparable populations in Europe for example have had massive increases in hours of drama produced on their advertising-funded free to air channels.

    What is so different here? Are the advertising dollars proportionally much lower per head of population? Do the networks pay a lot more for other content (eg. the key sporting codes)? Are we as a collective audience not interested in drama?

    The most telling thing is that there do not seem to be comparable countries that have quite the same programming mix. Yes, many of them have reality shows but the pattern of filling 1.5 to 2.0 hours per evening four to five nights a week with the same show is pretty much unheard of – and the most depressing…

    • It has increased here? There’s a lot more titles in long and short form. Comedy is the area that hasn’t kept pace. Free to Air viewing is also down in other countries.. we call this fragmentation. You are correct in noting nobody strips reality like Australia. I think anecdotally we know that there is no shortage of people telling us about the latest hot drama they’ve seen. Canada is a better comparison than USA and UK.

  5. Didn’t Free TV also commission that terrible report on SBS programming not meeting charter?

    How about the networks stop paying into a lobbying arm that really does nothing for their reputation?

  6. I think the government needs to offer tax breaks and incentives for networks to make Aussie drama and kids programming. One thing we do well in Australia is drama. We tell good stories. and when done right we make kids programming that kids all over the world love to watch.

    • The Government offers 30% subsidise in the form of tax breaks, the SPA and other producers want it increased to 40% and the ABC wants it extended to its science, religion and other content. Plus the various state and federal arts bodies kick in money, and the ABC spends a tiny amount of its $1.1b budget on drama ($26m p.a. last time it was leaked).

      Australia does not do drama well. The market it to small to fund it and our background was serials especially procedural ones like All Saints. Blue Heelers, Water Rats, GP etc. that churned out 45 episodes a year. The networks always made their money showing big budget US and UK dramas and comedies, that they could buy up much cheaper than making their own low budget shows. That changed with the premium drama point increase and the arrival of competition from Foxtel and streaming.

      • the trash is mostly going to be taken down by Hollywood right now. I can remember a lot of great shows from Australia . what are they like in America?so I agree that in Australia the best dramas are made by comedies and children’s TV

      • the fact that you have an inflated budget will not make the story more interesting.millions are spent in the United States on movies that make them interesting? one shit Hollywood has started to do.

  7. I agree that network quotas should be reviewed, to ensure networks and all streaming platforms contribute to the telling of Australian stories. but not reduced!
    I live in Australia and we should protect the voices of Australian multicultural society, which is full of diverse landscape, urban and rural dwellers. Yes, reality shows keep production and film crews employed, but we need scriptwriters, actors and the diverse range of other roles to be supported.
    There are a myriad of multi-channels that show a large percentage of overseas content, which dilutes the Australian stories. If networks do not have the dollars to create Aussie dramas, then reduce the multi-channels, with excessive repeats and support the stories of the people in the country that they are broadcasting.

  8. its simple. Advertising dollars are shrinking, views are dropping. it was only. matter of time. To keep local production and actors in jobs, the streaming services need to commission more Aussie drama and comedy and yes FTA will be only News Sport and reality soon.

  9. IdiotBoxing

    Eventually they will just be news and reality channels. If they truly wanted to service their viewers they would’ve commissioned showed more challenging and rewarding to watch than the generic stuff that’s on air now. First they abandoned comedy, then they implemented stripped reality, then allowed overruns and a liquid schedule, and now they complain no one’s watching their homogenised ‘dramas’. Where will it end for the FTA’s? Produce something interesting for gods sake!

    • The networks loved sketch comedy because it was cheap, they made it instead of sitcom and dramas. So the Government reduced the points for sketch comedy and increased it them for premium drama and it made economic sense for networks to make only that. Quotas are rigid rules that take no account of viewers desires and obstruct change be it technical, economic or cultural.

      The Government funds the ABC and SBS to provide a free alternative to commercial FTA and streaming.

  10. Elizabeth H

    Would love to know your thoughts David? I thoroughly enjoy Aussie drama and I am currently catching up on episodes of A Place To Call Home and Wentworth as I have the Foxtel Go app. The joys of winter and COVID keep us Victorians inside. I get the cost increases to networks but I worry for Aussie actors, crew, screen writers, directors etc. as well as the communities that benefit not only during production but years after when fans flock to where shows are filmed.

    I feel all networks should produce quality drama and consider that many shows are sold overseas. Europe is currently raving about Mystery Road according to Benjamin Law who made mention of this on Instagram this week. And we know the Brits love Neighbours.

      • I totally agree, using public spectrum comes with responsibilities, and I know that the commercial media don’t want any responsibility as its all about ratings. I fear that soon it will be trash that no one will watch. We will soon see generic reality shows (and conspiracy theories shows) dominating our schedules, and Seven and Nine will say we are giving people what they want, and that will be at the expense of intelligent television such as dramas and comedy. That is what we are witnessing with the dumbing down and bastardisation of free to air. I feel that ABC and SBS are the last bastions of intelligent television, even though with cuts to funding, I fear for the future.

  11. I personally think that it’s the quality of the writing that’s why FTA audiences are flocking away from local dramas. I can’t get past the first two episodes before I lose interest. Make them just limited series like 3 or 4 episodes in length and just write them without planning to have sequels in mind.

  12. Not this again. If you can’t run the business successfully, hand the licence back. Very selective argument, equally when their business model hasn’t changed much in 60 years. A model where you render a show almost unwatchable by ramming it full if ads every few minutes. Start with varying those factors and try to see from a viewer’s perspective why the easy alternatives like Netflix are so attractive. And stop making cheap rubbish.

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