Local TV threatened by content quota plan
Shot down ... the scrapping of free-to-air content quotas will threaten the future of Australian TV drama series such as Underbelly.
AUSTRALIAN drama and children's programs would all but disappear from TV schedules if content quotas for free-to-air stations were scrapped, a report commissioned by the government has found.
The number of hours devoted to Australian children's programs, dramas, documentaries, and news and current affairs shows would fall by 19 per cent, equivalent to more than $250 million in productions, PricewaterhouseCoopers found in its analysis of the impact of removing quotas.
Licence conditions for free-to-air commercial channels require them to broadcast at least 55 per cent of Australian content between the hours of 6am and midnight, while pay TV operators are required to spend 10 per cent of their total budgets on drama.
Under proposals before the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, the quota system would be extended to include 50 per cent increases in sub-quotas in drama, documentaries and children's programming.
While the TV industry does not object to quotas per se, it is opposed to the new genre targets, arguing they would add to their costs and be an additional regulatory burden.
The report found that unless the TV networks were obliged to spend money on Australian programs, they would not do so and would rely on overseas programs, most of which are bought in bulk from the US networks each year.
''If it is assumed that commercial FTA operators are driven by profits then Australian content must generate significantly higher revenue, achieved through higher ratings, than US content [in order] to be considered attractive,'' concluded the report, which was released late last week by Senator Conroy's department.
The amount of money spent on adult drama and children's programs, would fall by 90 and 100 per cent respectively if quotas were scrapped, the report found. The amount of money the pay TV industry would devote to Australian programming would fall to 6 per cent of total budgets - the level it was 12 years ago when the quotas were introduced.
It also concluded that as Australian content is a lot more expensive to produce than imported US shows, the networks would need to generate larger audiences and higher advertising returns to achieve the same returns.
For example in order to be profitable, a $1 million Australian mini-series would need to attract an audience of 2 million throughout its run, whereas the American show would only have to get an audience of 400,000 to achieve the same return.
TV networks currently meet their programming quotas. The networks spend over $1.3 billion on buying and making programs, of which 69 per cent was Australian, the majority of which was sport and light entertainment such as reality shows.