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More drama, fewer children's shows under free-to-air TV rule changes

Media and marketing

More big-budget Australian drama and less children’s content is expected to be shown on commercial television under rule changes announced by the Morrison government.

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Earlier this year, the commercial TV industry told the government rules around the production of children’s programming were preventing investment in other content.

Commercial broadcasters had been compelled to show a minimum of 260 hours of children’s programs a year, including 32 hours of first run children’s drama programming, as well as a minimum of 130 hours of Australian preschool programs.

But studies have shown YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime are now the platforms of choice for children, while all of the top 30 children’s programs on free-to-air television are on ABC Kids.

The industry called for production support and incentives to better respond to audience demands, involving a points system for commercial TV broadcasters to allow them greater flexibility.

In response, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher on Wednesday announced a $53 million plan to boost local television and film development and production and rule changes around content.

Screen Australia will receive an extra $3 million to run a grants program and $20 million will go to the Australian Children’s Television Foundation for children’s content.

As part of these changes, the producer offset, under which producers receive a refund of part of the production budget through the tax system, will be set at 30 per cent for all domestic film and television production.

As well, the drama, documentaries and children’s content “sub-quota” Australian content rules for broadcasters will be simplified from January 1.

Content will count towards the new, simplified requirement if it is either drama, or children’s content, or documentary content.

“With the minor exception of a cap on the number of hours of documentary content that can be counted towards meeting the requirement, the particular mix chosen will be a matter for each broadcaster based on its business strategy and judgement of audience appeal,” Fletcher said.

Commercial broadcasters will continue to be required to provide 55 per cent overall Australian content on their primary channels between 6am and midnight, and to provide 1460 hours of Australian content per year on their multi-channels.

Fletcher said it would likely lead to a rise in the production of big-budget drama which could be sold overseas.

Free TV chief Bridget Fair said the reforms would allow broadcasters to better respond to audience demand.

“The real winners in this reform package are TV audiences, who will continue to enjoy the Australian programs they love,” Fair said.

-AAP

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