Fears that Adult Drama will follow Children’s downturn on Free to Air TV

With RFDS & Blood on the Tracks pushed back to 2025, just one first-run series is announced for 2024 on commercial Free to Air.

Is the downturn in Children’s TV on Free to Air about to hit Adult Drama next?

In 2024, excluding serials, just one first-run local drama is set to screen on commercial channels …. Human Error, with Leeanna Walsman an Stephen Peacocke, on the Nine Network.

The series, originally announced to screen in 2023, is expected after the Olympic Games.

Nine’s other drama announced for 2024, Blood on the Tracks, will now screen in 2025.

Seven’s RFDS, also promised for 2024, will now screen in 2025 due to cast availability. Seven has no other dramas announced this year, however Home & Away is drawing bumper numbers in its 37th season.

10 is giving Five Bedrooms, NCIS: Sydney and Paper Dolls screenings on Free to Air after their run on Paramount+ but, aside from Neighbours in an arvo slot, its focus is on its Subscription platform where Fake starring Asher Keddie and David Wenham will screen in coming months. Paramount+ was home to premieres of NCIS: Sydney, Paper Dolls, One Night in 2023 (despite some being announced for 10).

Nine similarly focusses much of its spend on Stan Original Dramas such as Exposure, Nugget is Dead, Scrublands, Black Snow, Windcatcher, Population 11 and more.

Its increasingly clear that Nine and 10 are devoting much of their first-run drama behind paywalls.

With one first-run series confirmed on Free to Air commercial networks this year, this leaves viewers with the ABC as the key destination for new local dramas – Ladies in Black will premiere on June 16.

The recent  Commercial TV Expenditure Report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority found Australian Adult Drama slid from $65m in 2021 – 2022 to $49.4m in 2022 – 2023, dwarfed by the spend on Sport ($635,095,000), Light Entertainment ($556,556,000) and News & Current Affairs ($412,693,000).

SPA CEO Matthew Deaner said, “As we saw in the 2022-23 ACMA Commercial TV Program Expenditure Report released in May, there has been an almost 50 per cent decline in adult Australian drama expenditure by broadcasters since regulation was lifted in 2018.

“This is again a concerning trend with parallels to children’s content and with risk to both audience and industry.

“Australians deserve access to great Australian original dramas on all the platforms they access content from.”

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair recently said: “These numbers are a powerful demonstration that Free TV broadcasters see themselves as the home of Australian content. No other media platform makes the consistent investment in our local content year in, year out.”

17 Responses

  1. The writing’s been on the wall for years now. And to pivot from a cliché to an analogy, I think the Australian market is the canary in the coal mine – how many other territories will follow suit? Personally I don’t really care, having not watched FTA drama for quite some time. Vastly more choice, quality and originality on streamers now for drama. But if FTA is now to become the domain of reality, sport and news, I’m sure they will cry poor and ask for another reduction in license fees, despite offering hardly any drama.

  2. I have been lamenting for years about the lack of Australian Dramas on TV and even complaining about the recent strategies to hide them behind paywalls. I knew the government relaxing drama quotas would impact on the job security of our TV industry.
    I do not want Australian stories being limited and reducing our culture which is already threatened by the inundation of overseas stories, accents and expressions influencing the younger generations.
    The Australian government need to do more to protect this sector for the significant number of jobs reliant and the negative impact and loss of culture to our current and future society!

  3. Why spend money on dramas when they don’t rate that well. Being the devils advocate here, FTA is changing, and as such we will see change. Like it or not.

  4. what i would like to see is FTA television leave the idea behind of them being entillted having everyting handed to them on a platter like it was 30 years ago when they gave a dam but 7 9 and 10 have all cheapened themselves with two many reality shows this latest matter about sport for instance i think it should all be on pay tv like it is overseas

  5. Sadly, gone are the days when Drama dominated the airways on all commercial networks. A few of us do seem to miss the weekly 40 episode run of dramas. These days, we are lucky to get 10 episodes.

    Milking the reality tv genre means the end of other genres, particularly drama (series, tv movie and mini series).

    1. They weren’t dramas they were serial dramas and written and shot like soap operas. And they stopped making money when people could by cheap VHS players and skip ads and rent movies. Then came DVDs, DVRs and streaming. The minimum budget for an hour of TV on US streaming platform is $US 1.5m. Very little of our TV from the 80s and 90s would be considered watchable now.

  6. I remember the good old days when 7, 9 & 10 had 2 or 3 Australian dramas every year now we are lucky to get 1. And I don’t count Neighbours or Home & Away they are soaps. Now that they have Stan & Paramount+ they’ve gotten lazy & greedy & all their good dramas go there & if we are lucky they will have a second run on 10. But not all of them do. It’s time for 9 to do the same with Stan. Once they’ve aired on Stan they should show them on 9 a year or 2 later. I took up Stan for their free month trial & renewed for a second month but it gets too much when there are so many different streaming services with shows you want to watch. You can’t get them all.

  7. It was mentioned or alluded to in comments recently that Reality Drama like MAFS is seemingly the direction drama is heading in on free-to-air. These shows can be made cheaper as unlike Adult Drama, there is less scriptwriting, and no need for elaborate sets and costumes. And they get good ratings.

  8. Of course drama us dead, bews and reality TV are cheaper to produce. I prefer streaming, no annoying ads. I can watch the whole season in a day if I wish.
    Ever since tax breaks cane in, networks only made shows upto 100 episodes. Long running dramas that had long 40 episode seasons got the chop
    MAFS is the dumbest show on TV yet its the highest rating, year after year. The block is rinse and repeat year after year and people love it. Free to air TV is so boring.

    1. The tax breaks were capped at 85 episodes. But that isn’t an issue because even with the 30-40% production subsidy, the 30% location subsidy, money from state and federal arts funding and investment from foreign producers TV networks can’t afford to risk making more than 6-8 episodes of drama. Commercial TV has lost 66% of its advertising revenue to online targeted advertising because the internet is where people spend their time, including streaming TV. When people do watch TV it is Married At First Sight, Farmer Wants a Wife, Masterchef, or sport, light entertainment or tabloid news full of petty crime and paid stories not drama or sitcoms. The funding is just following viewer preferences.

      1. Actually it was 65 episodes. Dramas are still watched (Home & Away outranks MasterChef for example) but big chunks of it are on catch-up, such as for Bay of Fires and Newsreader. On streamers, international Dramas are generally the top drawcard, including Australian made such as Heartbreak High, Boy Swallows Universe.

        1. But, boy swallows universe and heartbreak are on streaming. You could watch as much or as little as you wanted in one go. Also boy swallows universe, will be one season and heartbreak high ends after season 3.

          I don’t watch local dramas on free to air, because you get invested, then it’s axed.

  9. When you put it like that David it is concerning. I like to support Aussie drama and watch many that are on offer each year (depending on the genre/actor etc) but some I miss due to being on a subscription and I occasionally subscribe to Binge etc for a month to ‘binge’ dramas I may have missed or wait until it’s on free to air. I cannot afford all streaming platforms (I have 2 regularly) and as a result it is months before I can view them or even see them at all.

    I do not want further generations to miss out on Aussie content, which is important for our identity and our nation.

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