‘Five Bedrooms’ cast celebrate the wrap.

ViacomCBS is calling for the scrapping of the drama quota, pointing to the steep decline in commercial free-to-air viewing of Australian dramas in the past 10 years, which is worse than the overall drop in FTA levels.

The owner of Network 10, 10 All Access and pay channels including MTV and Nickelodeon, the company says overall primetime commercial viewing from 2010 to 2019 fell by 28 per cent while drama audiences plummeted by 53 per cent in that period.

Local dramas drew an average primetime audience of 530,000 last year, down from 1.139 million in 2010, James Boyce, Network 10’s head of government and regulatory affairs, tells IF.

Taking a longer-term view, in its submission to the government’s ‘Supporting Australian Stories on Our Screens’ options paper review, ViacomCBS said audiences for adult drama on commercial FTA TV have fallen by 61 per cent over the past 20 years as platform competition and content options have mushroomed.

Among audiences aged under 40, the drop was an even more precipitous 81 per cent.

Its paper contrasts the 7-day metropolitan audiences for The Secret Life of Us in 2001 with those for Offspring in 2010 and Five Bedrooms last year.

As the chart shows, BVOD viewing added just 76,000 viewers to Five Bedrooms‘ 7-day figure of 596,000. Still, the Hoodlum Entertainment production performed so well it triggered a second series which has just wrapped in Melbourne.

ViacomCBS endorses Free TV Australia’s proposal of an annual points quota of 250 points (the same as the current annual minimums for adult drama) except that would apply far more broadly, to drama, documentary and kids programming.

Programs with higher budgets would be rewarded with higher points so the networks’ commissioned series can compete more effectively with the SVOD services’ offerings.

It also wants to change the current broadcast quota of 55 per cent Australian content on the primary channel plus 1,460 hours of content across the multi-channels, to one transmission quota of 5,074 hours, which is the total hours equivalent of the current quotas combined.

“This would just allow networks more flexibility to program their channels to their audience needs while still ensuring there’s at least as much Aussie content provided as there is today,” Boyce says.

Last year Network 10 broadcast more than 7,110 hours of Australian content, including more than 4,580 hours on the primary channel, exceeding the broadcast quotas for local content by more than 40 per cent. Channel 10’s nightly primetime schedule consistently has more than 70 per cent Australian content.

On the commercial FTA catch-up platforms, among the top 20 programs only two are first-run Australian dramas, namely Neighbours and Home and Away.

Given its ownership of 10 All Access, ViacomCBS unsurprisingly adopts the line of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Stan in seeking voluntary investment in Australian content for streamers.

In common with Free TV Australia, it wants to see a doubling of the TV Producer Offset to 40 per cent and the eligibility broadened to light entertainment, observational documentary, music, lifestyle and reality programming.

It also wants to fix the anomaly whereby The Amazing Race Australia does not qualify for the Producer Offset but if The Amazing Race America were filmed here it would get the Location Offset and potentially the location incentive top-up announced today.

That could encourage networks to bring back more Australian reality shows currently filmed overseas, creating hundreds of additional jobs and millions of dollars in local investment.

Its submission contends that audiences under 55 are being particularly let down by the regulations imposed on the commercial FTA broadcasters.

The under 55s are platform hoppers who seek content where and when they want it, which “regulation is clearly stymieing when it comes to commercial FTA TV,” it says.

It warns: “If FTA and STV broadcasters are prevented from meeting audience demands then the decline in viewers will continue. As audiences fall, so too will revenue from advertisers; and without these revenues broadcasters will be unable to sustain investment in more in-demand Australian content.

“If reform stagnation is allowed to continue over the longer term it is our view that the existing market of three commercial FTA networks will likely become unsustainable, leaving regulators, government and the production industry with a much tougher problem to solve than today.”

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