Announcing the new rules on Wednesday, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher echoed the broadcasters’ argument: “Almost nobody watches children’s content on commercial television.” The new rules will mean networks are no longer obliged to air animated shows like Beat Bugs (image at top) and Alien TV.
Trade body Screen Producers Australia (SPA) condemned the changes, predicting that “thousands of jobs” will be lost and the production of Australian and children’s content will fall by “at least half.” In a statement, CEO Matthew Deaner said:
Deregulation of legacy platforms without a transition plan into regulation of new platforms creates a disjointed and incomplete policy response that tinkers around the edges, appears to have been driven by old-world thinking, and has scant regard to the future of Australian screen content. A once-in-a-generation chance to reset the foundations for Australian stories for future generations and bring regulation into the 21st century has been presented to the government in a unified way by the screen industry and the response presented today falls short and needs rethinking.
The “new platforms” Deaner mentions are central to this debate. Streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon have drawn audiences away from linear broadcasters while escaping regulation in the country. Producers had hoped that, far from watering down the quotas, the government would extend them to the streamers — a policy it had considered. That isn’t happening yet, but the streamers will now be required to report their content acquisitions to the government.
To support producers, the government has also unveiled a new funding package. The Australian Children’s Television Foundation, a nonprofit children’s media organization, will receive USD$14 million, while Screen Australia will be given USD$21 million for the production of local drama, documentary, and kids’ content. Another USD$2 million will go toward supporting screenwriting and script development. Fletcher explained:
Our direct funding … complements what the broadcasters might choose to do. The most popular programs for children are overwhelmingly on ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] and children are high users of downloaded content, streaming content. What we want to do is continue to support Australian high-quality children’s tv to be shown in Australia and globally.
In its statement, SPA welcomed the funds, but added that they won’t offset the damage caused by the changes to the quotas:
Additional funding … is welcome, however with no regulation to stimulate commissions, we are concerned as to the effectiveness of this as a measure to meet the needs of Australia’s child audiences as it doesn’t in its own right trigger production and could amount simply to development of projects with no pathway to audiences … No amount of incentives can protect a sector that starts to structurally become reliant on irregular and patchy commissioning.
This dispute resembles a debate currently playing out in the European Union, where local production quotas currently imposed on networks are due to be extended to streamers. In France, Netflix is actively resisting this change.