ABC requests an additional $90 million in funding for Australian content

ABC MD David Anderson.

The ABC has used its submission to the Federal Government’s media reform green paper review to request an additional $90 million in funding, while at the same time joining SBS in dismissing content obligations as “unnecessary”.

In its response to the paper, the ABC has proposed it receive $30 million in annual funding across the next three years to support the production of an extra 36 hours of Australian drama, factual and children’s content, and 30 hours of arts, music, and specialist programming a year.

The broadcaster also reiterated its stance that a content obligation has the potential to affect its operational independence, with the submission stating the proposal could “constrain the ability of the ABC board and management to flexibly allocate funds to best meet the corporation’s charter remit in a changing media environment”.

Instead, the ABC suggested commissioning commitments in “key content genres” at the beginning of each triennial funding period that would allow it to “adjust expenditure in line with its budget while providing clear signals to potential production partners about its intentions”.

Earlier this year, ABC managing director David Anderson said that the level of Australian content on the ABC was not “an issue of intent”, but “a question of budget”.

Speaking about its submission, Anderson said the ABC was looking forward to further consultation with government and FTA broadcasters to find the best approach for the industry.

“We welcome the green paper’s recognition of the essential role that FTA television plays in making Australian news, culture and stories available to all Australians.

“As the nation’s biggest backer of homegrown content and creativity, the ABC agrees that broadcast television is important for most Australians and will remain so for the foreseeable future.”

In its submission, SBS questioned the need for a quota to address a “floor” on output, noting its “significant” commitment of funds towards Australian content.

However, it argued that if the government’s policy intention is to increase SBS’s Australian content output, then an increase in base funding would be the preferred mechanism, followed by tied funding – rather than legislative obligations.

Its submission argues against genre-specific requirements which it says “limit
SBS’s capacity to respond to evolving audience and market variances”, as well as time-based quotas that “do not reflect the multiplatform nature of contemporary media”.

SBS also believes the differences between the SBS and ABC Charter obligations must be taken into account, due in part to the ABC receiving “more than three times the level of government support”.

Further, it states there should be no obligation for Australian content on its multichannels (NITV, SBS Food, SBS World Movies, SBS VICELAND) or SBS On Demand, as “the introduction of Australian content requirements on these channels would dilute the special nature of these services and the programming which they provide.”

In terms of the proposed content obligations for SVOD and AVOD services, the ABC acknowledged the “merit of the proposition”, but believed “careful design” was required to ensure that it does not add to inflationary pressures already affecting the production sector.

The ABC also said it was concerned with Screen Australia’s support for television productions that are partnered with international VOD services, which it says reduce the availability of public funds to Australian broadcasters.

In its submission, SBS said any SVOD and AVOD obligations should be considered “in the context and in proportion to any proposed obligations on the public broadcasters”, also calling on the government to clarify that SBS On Demand that does not fall under the requirement.

Find the ABC submission here and SBS submission here.