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.”