Free TV welcomes ACMA figures on commercial TV expenditure despite declining children’s spend

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Free TV CEO Bridget Fair has downplayed concerns regarding figures released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) last week showing Australia’s commercial broadcasters spent nothing on Australian children’s drama in 2022-23, maintaining commercial investment in Australian content has continued to grow strongly in response to audience demand.

The ACMA’s ‘TV in Australia: Spending on commercial TV programs for FY23’ report found Australian content accounted for 87 per cent of all program expenditure for the country’s commercial TV stations in the 2022/23 financial year, an increase of 8 per cent on the previous year.

A total of $1.67 billion was spent, including $635 million on sport, up from $545 million in 2021–22, and $413 million on Australian news and current affairs, up from $361 million in 2021–22.

Expenditure on ‘Light entertainment—other’ ($556.56m), ‘Australian documentaries’ (14.8m) and ‘Overseas drama’ ($211.1m) remained at similar expenditure levels to the 2021–22 financial year.

The news was not as good on the children’s television front, where spending on (non-drama) programs decreased to $743,820, down from $883,445 in 2021–22, with no expenditure reported for Australian children’s drama, down from $2,027,426 in 2021–22.

The report has sparked debate among sections of the industry, with Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner describing the figures as “highly alarming but not at all surprising” given the previous government’s relaxation of the fixed local content quotas on free-to-air commercial networks in 2021.

“Until there is more balanced regulation of commercial broadcasters and the increasingly dominant streaming platforms, nothing will change for Australian child audiences,” he said.

However, Fair said the report showed TV broadcasters remained strongly committed to Australian content, noting the changes that were made to quotas recognised that broadcasters “should have the flexibility to invest in the mix of programming that audiences want to watch rather than locking them in to quota-mandated programs that were increasingly failing to find an audience”.

“Free TV was clear that in the five-year period leading up to the review of content quotas, children’s quota programming was attracting average audiences of less than 1000 children, which was clearly not delivering any cultural benefit to Australian families and was inhibiting investment in other Australian programs that audiences connected with,” she said.

“These results show that the investment by Australian commercial television broadcasters in Australian content has continued to grow strongly in response to audience demand, including some non-drama children’s programs and many programs watched by Australian families and children such as Lego Masters, Australian Idol, and MasterChef.”

The report came a day after the announcement of the Federal Budget, which included $14.5 million across four years for the Australian Children’s Television Foundation to support the production of Australian children’s screen content.

Find the ACMA report here.