Friday 21 July 2017
Australia’s screen and entertainment industry has responded in a united front against calls made by commercial television broadcasters to abolish Australian children’s television quotas.
In Sydney yesterday, at the parliamentary inquiry into the sustainability of the Australian film and television industry, the CEOs of Seven, Nine and Ten all made submissions to abolish Australian children’s television quotas.
‘What the broadcasters are essentially arguing for is a reward for failure: failing Australian children, failing Australian parents, failing Australian industry. It is a cruel irony that in an inquiry into the growth and sustainability of the Australian film and television industry, the commercial broadcasters have argued for the destruction of the Australian children’s content industry,’ said Kingston Anderson, CEO Australian Directors’ Guild.
According to Screen Australia’s Drama Report, in 2014–15 there were 47 children’s productions in Australia with a total spend of $299 million. If the broadcaster’s recommendations are accepted by the Federal Government, this economic activity is in jeopardy.
‘What is lost in the current focus on the broadcasters’ position is the success of the Australian children’s television industry both here and abroad. Children’s television is one of the most lucrative international exports in the entire industry, contributing to a significant portion of $100 million in annualised international content revenue; its reach extends to over 150 countries across film, TV, digital, animation, gaming, live performance and merchandising. Local broadcasters are the trigger for this broader economic activity. We can’t lose sight of the bigger picture,’ CEO Screen Producers Australia Matthew Deaner said.
According to the ACMA’s Broadcast Financial Results, in 2014–15 the commercial broadcasters spent approximately $30 million on children’s content, out of a total content budget of nearly $2 billion. Under these new proposals, the broadcasters would be under no obligation to commit to this level of spending.
President of the Australian Guild of Screen Composers Guy Gross explained that there’s more at stake than the broadcatsers’ argument would suggest: ‘The spend on children’s television is less than two per cent of broadcasters’ total content budgets. There remain strong cultural, educational and vocational reasons why we have children’s content quotas. They aren’t there for the sole purpose of broadcasters making money. The Australian children’s television industry is a proving ground. If we lose the children’s quotas, we lose the children’s industry, and the broader industry loses because we lose an entry point for emerging practitioners.’
Ten’s Paul Anderson told the hearings he would invest any money freed up by not spending on children’s content into prime-time programming.
‘When the UK Government took away quotas on their broadcasters in 2003, it led to a 93 per cent fall in spend on children’s content by those broadcasters. The UK Government admitted it made a mistake and brought back children’s quotas,’ stated Paul Murphy, CEO of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. ‘That’s a luxury the Australian Government can’t afford because of our free trade agreement with the United States.’
Screen Australia’s 2013 report Child’s Play, found that Australian children prefer content specifically made for them and are highly engaged with drama on a number of levels.
‘This is about more than money. It’s about who we are as Australians. An intrinsic value of Australian children’s drama is that it reflects the diversity of the Australian experience back to our children. No one else is going to make Australian stories for us. If we lose the children’s industry, we will lose a sense of self, our cultural heritage. The next generation will grow up on a diet of foreign programming and without Australian accents. More importantly, Australian children deserve better. They deserve Australian stories. They deserve to dream Australian dreams,’ Jan Sardi, President of the Australian Writers’ Guild added.
Seven’s Tim Worner told the parliamentary inquiry that his organisation’s spend on children’s content is not proportionate to the audience. He stated: ‘We’re spending millions of dollars on children’s content for just a few thousand viewers. Some of the audiences are down to an average of 6000.’
In response to that claim, Matthew Deaner explained: ‘There has been a selective use of figures. The primary broadcaster audience reflects where the children’s content has been programmed, usually on multichannels. But we know that the numbers increase across platforms. This is why we need a multiplicity of children’s content offerings, not a monopoly. It takes a village to raise a child.’