The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Australian Content Under Threat

2018 is shaping up to be a critical year for Australian children’s television. Jenny  Buckland, CEO of the Australian Children's Television Foundation explains why...

Australia used to be a bit of an exemplar in how to support locally produced children’s television.

Our support system – which started with children’s drama quotas and other regulations on commercial broadcasters over 35 years ago – was also underpinned by direct subsidy that was equal to that afforded to Australian adult drama. As a result, distinctively Australian children’s dramas defined childhood for generations of children. Programs that include Round The Twist, The Girl From Tomorrow, Spellbinder, Lift Off, Ocean Girl, Mortified, H2O:Just Add Water and Lockie Leonard have been to air many times over, made an indelible imprint on Australian culture and been exported to more than 100 countries.

Ten years ago, attractive tax offsets for producers and additional funding to the ABC for children’s content, were also included in the support mix. Everyone anticipated this would herald a new era for Australian children’s television, and it did. Very briefly. But changing business models, shifting audience viewing habits, and regulation and support mechanisms that have struggled to keep pace with these changes, have revealed children’s television to be the most vulnerable sector in the industry – a sector that could be wiped out without significant reforms.

Last year, the Commonwealth Government called for submissions to its Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review.

The free-to-air commercial broadcasters came out with all guns blazing, arguing for the Children’s Television Standards and the Children’s Drama quota to be abolished. Elsewhere it was revealed that public broadcaster (ABC) expenditure on local children’s content had declined dramatically in the previous five years and that the ABC (which does not have any content quotas) is showing less than 30% Australian content on its children’s services.

ACTF also submitted to the Review.

We looked at Screen Australia’s investment in children’s drama compared to adult drama and discovered the extent to which direct investment in children’s drama had declined since the introduction of the tax offsets.

To achieve a vibrant, balanced, outstanding children’s content production environment delivering quality Australian content to Australian children, we argued that Government will need to ensure:

  • That the public broadcasting sector is both required and supported to deliver a distinctive, original and comprehensive multiplatform service for all Australian children, which incorporates high levels of Australian content across a range of genres including news, current affairs, factual, comedy, live action drama, animation and educational content.
  • That measures are in place to require, support and encourage commercial platforms (whether free to air, subscription television, or SVOD and other online services) to commission quality Australian children’s content which they can schedule and deliver in a way that supports their commercial objectives; and
  • That there are sufficient funding mechanisms in place to support the production and distribution of Australian children’s content; and that these mechanisms acknowledge that children’s content does not command the same licence fees that adult content does, and that it should not be necessary for all Australian children’s content to attract high levels of foreign investment before it can be produced.

While we wait for the outcomes of the Review, it’s fascinating to look to the UK and compare the discussions that we’re having with discussions there: the questions around whether or not Ofcom will re-introduce quotas for the PSBs, Ofcom overseeing the performance of the BBC and the way the Contestable Children’s Fund will be used to support British content all seem very familiar to Australians.

A fragmented, multi-platform, on-demand and time-shifted viewing environment providing a global smorgasbord of content from global brands is challenging the broadcasting and funding models of the past. It clearly means that wherever you are on the planet, effective support for local children’s content is more critical than ever.

Industry Policy

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)