However, broadcasters lobbied to lower – or abolish – quotas long before the coronavirus. They are renewing those appeals now, emboldened by the suspension. If they are to broadcast Australian content, their argument is that it is better to broadcast more lucrative genres like reality TV, news and sports.
According to the broadcasters lobby group Free TV, âQuotas have become completely irrelevant for modern Australian families, their children and their viewing choices. It is time they were done away with and a new approach was adopted – one that recognizes what children are watching and where. “
The backdrop to this crisis is the constant drift of audiences to streaming platforms, which face no content quota in the country. Linear diffusers have seen their ratings drop for years. Bridget Fair, CEO of Free TV, said: âChildren’s quota programming now attracts an average audience of less than 1,000 children and costs continue to rise at a rate that prevents investment in other Australian content. that the public wants to watch. “
Despite what Fletcher says, the pandemic has not stopped the animation industry, which accounts for a large portion of Australian children’s content. After making efforts to switch to a work-from-home setup, animation producers were stung by the quota suspension in April. Patrick Egerton, partner of animation studio Cheeky Little Media, said Kidscreen at the time:
Obviously, the pressure we are all under due to Covid-19 is unprecedented, so seeing this sudden interruption announced without an alternative funding model in place makes it seem like the government is throwing a lifeline on broadcasters and leaving child producers sink. It takes [some] of our free-to-air broadcasters completely out of the mix, and leaves the producers with the ABC [the public broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation] as the only door to knock on for potential license fees for Australia.
The suspension was accompanied by a options paper who presented the government with various long-term strategies, ranging from regulating streaming platforms (which streamers resist) to abolishing quotas everywhere. The animation industry, and the film industry in general, fear that the government is moving towards the latter option. Screen Producers Australia trading organization said:
Due to Australia’s relatively small size, regulation is fundamental to the strength of our screen industry and its ability to deliver cultural and economic results through significant private investment. Without the backing of smart regulation and incentives to spur this investment, our ability to deliver various Australian stories will be diminished and lead to increased appeal for public funds and risk a massive drop in employment.
Some also argue that the broadcasters themselves are responsible for the poor ratings of their children’s content. Elizabeth Handsley, chairwoman of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, told Goalkeeper Australia:
It has been very frustrating over the years to see so much great children’s content go unnoticed because of the way the licensees programmed it and failed to promote it. All the more so when you see how well they promote a lot of other content. It has also been frustrating to see the government, year after year, fail to call them on these practices.
Additionally, the creative industry has also asked for more funding for national broadcasters to produce Indigenous and children’s content, as a way to compensate if commercial broadcasters cut airtime for these categories.
The government has not set a specific timeframe for its decision on television reform. A spokesperson for Fletcher said he was considering all options.
(Top image: âBottersnikes and Gumblesâ by Cheeky Little Media.)