Noni: COVID “a perfect excuse to drop local quotas”

Networks are using the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to drop local quotas they have long wanted to dispense with, according to industry veteran Noni Hazlehurst.

“They’re just taking advantage of the fact that they can say, ‘Now we’ve got the perfect excuse to cut all these quotas.’ It’s very, very disturbing, indeed,” she tells TV Tonight.

“They’ve been trying to do that for years. The reality is they put so much money into Sport, which certainly came back to bite them on the bum, and stretching the boundaries of what constitutes Australian content.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg argument”

“I just feel so despairing,” she continued. “They’re all in financial dire straits -all the networks. In one sense, understandably, because they’ve not really given people much that’s worthwhile. So people are seeking out other forms of entertainment, quite rightly. So, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg argument.”

Hazlehurst, currently presenting Every Family Has a Secret for SBS, has long been passionate about Australian content, awarded an Order of Australia for her services to children and the performing arts and inducted into the Logie Hall of Fame.

In 2020 there are new concerns, not just about content but in the very survival of a sector hit hard by the pandemic.

“A real eye opener”

“The fact that we’re getting so little support from government has been a real eye opener. It’s not a surprise, but it’s very interesting considering what we contribute to not only people’s mental well-being and entertainment, but also to GDP. An $11 billion industry with 660,000 workers that’s not worth supporting, really leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

In June the government announced $250 million worth of grants and loans for the arts sector, but many expressed concerns this overlooked part time and freelance workers. In July a $400 million incentive was announced to attract productions to Australia.

But producers have also called for local quotas, suspended for 2020, for to be reinstated for 2021 to ignite production now.

Free TV Australia has advocated for deregulation to drop local sub-quotas in Drama, Documentary and Children’s TV and invest in local content with a simplified points system.

But Hazlehurst champions the power of audiences, whatever their age.

“There’s this strange notion that’s been going around for a long time,” she observes.

“When I started on Play School, children weren’t considered consumers, obviously. But what people failed to recognise was that their parents, grandparents and carers are consumers. When I started there were no Bananas in Pyjamas, no Wiggles – they weren’t considered ‘attractive consumers.’ But now there’s a whole industry, of course, based on products for children. So, there’s no reason why they couldn’t have cultivated those allegiances in a thoughtful and clever way.

“But at the other end of the spectrum, there’s a lack of care for older people. A disinterest in the demographic over 50 and the assumption that we’re stuck in our ways and don’t change our mind about brands, which is complete nonsense. Most boomers and beyond have the disposable income to actually be worth advertising to.”

“There is a return to a demand for empathy and connection”

Yet through this very strange 2020, there are also fundamentals that we have been sorely reminded of.

“Maybe a good by-product of the virus is that there is a return to a demand for empathy and connection. When people ask ‘How are you going?’, we really want to know, and we empathise with how people are going. We’re not in the same boat, but we’re on the same ocean.”

Is she optimistic that writers in lockdown will surely have been creating new work through adversity?

“I’m sure there’s a lot of great things being written, but whether that translates into actually being made, that’s the disturbing part….,” she suggests.

“When the quotas were relaxed I think a lot of people went into despair”

“When the quotas were relaxed I think a lot of people went into despair. It’s all very well having a lot of planes lined up on the runway, but if the runway is destroyed, it’s hard to take off.”

Every Family Has a Secret airs 7:30pm Tuesdays on SBS.

7 Comments:

  1. jezza the first original one

    If you go back 10 years, the networks were treating adult viewers with contempt and like children. Their collective arrogance failed to see beyond their bonuses. Along came streaming and wiped out a huge chunk of their viewers. While Noni is correct, it is also a financial imperative now for the fta comm chs to survive.

  2. The core issue about local content quotas is whether the content is viable for the television networks, otherwise they wouldn’t oppose it as much as they do. The real gauge of success or viability is whether the concepts are worthy enough to be picked up for broadcast or reproduction rights overseas, or resonates with domestic audiences enough to attain large ratings.

    Is the production of worthless programming for the sake of fulfilling quotas and keeping people employed alone of value, or meaningful? The only exception I can think of is programming intended for niche or cult audiences, which is good programming that appeals to certain audiences and demographics.

    And I agree about what constitutes local content. NZ content is not local. Though sharing close ties, it’s still quite foreign.

  3. That $11b industry (in a $2 trillion economy) receives billions of dollars in arts fund plus billions of dollars in tax concessions. Since subsidies were pulled from the car industry, it gets the highest subsidies of any industry.

    What it has temporarily lost is the requirement that commercial networks buy it’s products, that viewers don’t want to watch, because it would send them bankrupt in the current climate. The Government is formulating a new system for broadcast TV and subscription TV.

    • Is it really going to send them broke though? What proportion of their program spend is kids? Isn’t it something like $15m per year across all three of them?

  4. I’ve had a 40 ep c-class show commission cancelled because of this – after 3 years of development – and this happened before COVID. It appears Networks knew of the ‘pausing’ weeks before it was actually announced. I don’t believe the quotas are coming back anytime soon.

  5. An insightful interview David. Thank you for sharing. Been a fan of Noni since Play School days (when I was just a preschooler) She has many valid points. I just hope the government listens to the argument raised by many in the arts sector including Noni.

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