The options paper being drafted by Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority should set out funding mechanisms to support film and TV content, particularly for the most vulnerable sector, children’s programming, while extending the kids quota to public broadcasters.
So hopes Jenny Buckland, CEO of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher asked the Screen Australia/ACMA review to examine the FTA networks’ local content obligations; consider whether content quotas should be extended to streaming services; and to develop a uniform classification framework across all media platforms.
“Funding for children’s content should be designed in a way which incentivises commercial platforms to want to invest in it, but it is also vital that the fundamental role of the ABC and NITV in commissioning Australian children’s content is front and centre,” Buckland tells IF.
“They need to be resourced to do that properly and any new framework supporting children’s content should include them, rather than leave the public broadcasters sitting outside the policy framework.
“Right now, they are the leaders in this space, and judging by their viewing numbers compared to those on the commercial networks, it is very clear that the Australian community turns to the ABC and NITV for quality children’s content.”
The commercial broadcasters have long called for the scrapping of the children’s TV quotas but some producers believe that privately they accept they will have to continue investing in kids’ content.
Buckland believes the networks are holding off on ordering children’s shows until they see the options paper and figure out how much longer they will have to comply with quotas.
“This year might at least bring some certainty around those issues which would be in everyone’s interests,” she says.
“I anticipate increased flexibility coming for the commercial free-to-air broadcasters, and that regulation and support will be more appropriate to the content being created and watched by audiences today.”
Her bullish outlook for the sector is due to several factors including the ABC’s 2020 kids’ slate, the quality of many of the projects applying for ACTF script development funding, and the strong prospects of more international sales.
The ACTF has fully committed its 2020 production investment to two series commissioned by the ABC, co-funded by Screen Australia, which are yet to be announced.
Netflix snapped up Aquarius Films’ The Unlisted and Gristmill’s The Inbestigators and Disney+ acquired Ludo Studios’ Bluey via BBC Worldwide.
She hopes the tearaway success of Bluey will encourage the public broadcaster to invest in more pre-school content and inspire creators to be “authentic and true in what they do and not afraid to develop shows that are meant to touch the audience here at home. If it comes from the heart and truly works, it will speak to audiences further afield as well.”
Major public broadcasters and their distribution arms including BBC/BBC Worldwide and ZDF/ZDFE continue to invest in Australian kids’ content too, she observes.
“I think the international prospects for Australian content continue to be positive. There are multiple pathways for Australian children’s shows to reach the international market,” she says.
“What’s notable is how high the quality and production values need to be in order to compete and attract children’s audiences. There isn’t as much space for mediocre content as there used to be.
“It’s also getting tricky negotiating rights and windows as free TV broadcasters focus more on their online platforms and less on their linear channels; this means the rights they are wanting to acquire merge or compete with the rights the SVoDs are buying. So it’s becoming very complicated but it’s terrific that the interest is there and producers with great content have options.”
Stressing the need for a new classification system, she calls for a framework which is consistent across all platforms, provides consumers with helpful information including perhaps an age range that a program is suitable for, and is not prohibitively expensive.