Children’s producers take to Canberra to fight for sub-quota on streamers

Bottom row: Andrew Davies, Studio Moshi; Justine Clarke, Justine Clarke Productions; Patrick Egerton, Cheeky Little; Lina Foti, Lion Forge Animation. Centre: Suzanne Ryan, SLR Productions; Donna Andrews, Sticky Pictures; Daniel Schultz, Ludo Studio. Top row: David Webster, Cheeky Little; Barbara Stephen, Flying Bark Productions; David Gurney, Blue Rocket Productions.

Australia’s leading children’s producers are calling for a 20 per cent children’s sub-quota to be placed on streaming platforms, based on an overall 20 per cent revenue-based local content requirement.

The coalition, which includes production companies behind shows like Bluey, Hardball, Little J and Big Cuz, dirtgirlworld and Mako Mermaids, argues in its submission to the Federal Government’s media reform green paper that such a requirement would create at least 2,000 jobs and more than 60 hours of content.  

“Even more importantly, this will ensure current and future generations of Australian children of all ages will see themselves, in all their diverse forms, on their screens alongside the masses of ‘foreign’ English-language content,” the group, which consists of 30 companies and calls itself Australian Children’s Producers (ACP), writes.

ACP agrees with the industry-led proposal that SVOD and AVOD services with at least 500,000 subscribers or $50 million in annual Australian revenue be required to spend 20 per cent of that revenue on new Australian commissions.

However, it argues that within that there should be also a 20 per cent sub-quota for children’s content.

“Children represent approximately 20 per cent of the Australian population and are therefore entitled to be supported by a pro-rata level of Australian content,” ACP writes in its submission.

“A sub-genre quota of 20 per cent does not equate to an additional burden on the streaming platforms and in fact enhances their business model, because children’s and family audiences represent the biggest demographic for retention of paid subscriptions.

“Further, the SVODs in particular are, even though behind a paywall, the primary ‘safe’ platforms for Australian children – together with the ABC – to watch programming free from advertising and with parental controls possible, making them key destinations for Australian parents to encourage their kids to watch.”

To make their voices heard further, representatives from the ACP group took to Canberra last week, attending more than 25 meetings across three days with representatives from all the major parties.

While the Minister for Communications, Cities, Urban Infrastructure and the Arts Paul Fletcher was unavailable to meet with them, the coalition is hopeful their message will be communicated.

Shadow Minister for the Arts Tony Burke addressed the need for Australian content obligations last week in Parliament.

“Are Australian children going to be growing up watching Australian stories, whether the remote goes to free-to-air, to cable or to the apps that come in through the web?” he asked.

The state of play for kids

The producers’ call comes at a precarious time for local kids programming.

With local content quotas on free-to-air commercial networks temporarily suspended in April last year due to COVID-19, and then fixed quotas permanently axed in January, there is currently no mandate for any broadcaster or platform to produce local content for children.

Indeed, the ACP argues the decision to suspend the children’s FTA sub-quota during COVID led to commissions being cancelled and an estimated 3,000 jobs lost. Many companies, it argues, are urgently seeking financial relief in order to survive. 

At last year’s budget, the government announced an additional $20 million for the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF), which has been followed by a further $11.9 million this year. While the ACP acknowledges this support, it argues that it has yet to result in uplift.

As they point out, to access this funding, you need significant Australian marketplace attachment via a local commissioning platform.

The group argues it is not aware of any new children’s commissions by Nine or Seven since the suspension of quotas. It proposes that 10 is the only commercial FTA to retain any commitment to children’s programming, albeit at a reduced rate.

10’s recent commissions include The Steve Jaggi Company’s Dive Club, with Netflix, and Fremantle’s Taylor’s Island, with Nickelodeon International.

There is a provision within the green paper for a sub-genre obligation on ABC and SBS for children’s production to ‘counter-balance’ the removal of quotas on the commercial broadcasters. However, the ACP argues this is concerning, especially in light of the pubcasters constrained budgets.

“The ABC is already a substantial commissioner of Australian children’s content. However, there is not room within its budget, or commissioning philosophy, for it to make up for what was previously commissioned by the commercial broadcasters,” the group writes.

To Canberra

Those who took to the capital last week included SLR Productions CEO Suzanne Ryan; Justine Clarke of Justine Clarke Productions; Sticky Pictures CEO Donna Andrews; Flying Bark Productions CEO Barbara Stephen; Ludo Studio producer Daniel Schultz; Cheeky Little co-founder Patrick Egerton, Blue Rocket CEO David Gurney, Studio Moshi CEO Andrew Davies and Lion Forge Animation executive producer Lina Foti.

Ryan tells IF that Australian children deserve to hear and see stories made especially for them.

“Regulation on platforms should not be feared, it should be embraced. We want our children growing up with their own culture. The timing is critical for regulation on the streaming platforms, and it’s imperative it includes a children’s subquota.” 

Andrews adds: “We are not asking for a hand-out, we are asking for regulation and structure that allows Australian children’s content producers to have a pathway to market so that Australian kids can see and hear themselves on our screens.”

The Australian Children’s Producers (ACP) group includes: A Stark Productions; Air Pig Productions & Emerald Films, Ambience Entertainment, Beyond Productions, Blue Rocket Productions, BES Animation, Buster Productions, Cheeky Little, CJZ, Feisty Dame Productions, Flying Bark Productions, Jonathan M. Shiff Productions, Justine Clarke Productions, Kapow Pictures, Like A Photon Creative, Lion Forge Animation, Ludo Studio, Media World Pictures, Mememe Productions, Moody Street Kids, Ned Lander Media, Northern Pictures, Pop Family Entertainment, SLR Productions, Sticky Pictures, Studio Moshi, Vishus Productions, Viskatoons (now Xentrix Studios Australia).