Stories to Tell: Protecting Australian Children’s Screen Content

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June 2017

By Emma Dawson

For more than 30 years, Australia has led the world in the production of high-quality children’s screen content. Australian children’s series are broadcast in more than 100 countries, and have won numerous international children’s television awards.

In Australia, the value of locally made, original screen stories for Australian children has long been recognised in public policy.

Children’s content is, however, expensive to produce and difficult to monetise. Restrictions on advertising during children’s programs mean that the rate of return to commercial broadcasters on an original Australian children’s series is unfeasibly low. Networks can buy international children’s programs for a fraction of the cost of production of local content, and often obtain kids’ TV series from international distributors without cost, either as part of a larger distribution deal or in order for large global producers to drive the market for associated merchandise.

There is, therefore, no commercial incentive for Australian broadcasters to produce original children’s screen content.

Successive Australian governments have, since the late 1970s, recognised that the market cannot be relied upon to provide high-quality, original and distinctly Australian screen content for children, and have supported production and distribution through a mix of content quotas, direct subsidies and tax incentives.

Speaking at the Australian Content Conversation conference on Tuesday 16 May, the current federal Communications Minister, The Honourable Mitch Fifield MP, said:

Australian stories need to be told. People need to hear our stories, our perspectives, our ideas. We have got a lot to share, and our stories and voices do matter.  Our children need to understand the inherent uniqueness of our nation, and the character and diversity of our people.” (Fifield, 2017).

The Minister subsequently announced a government inquiry titled Securing the Future of Australian and Children’s Screen Content. The inquiry commences in June and will report to government by the end of 2017.

In recent years, the landscape in which screen content is consumed has undergone significant disruption due to the advent of digital broadcasting and other distribution platforms. This is particularly true for Australian children’s content: the advent of the ABC’s dedicated children’s channel, ABC ME, and block preschool programming on ABC2, along with the arrival of international on-demand content services such as Netflix, have rapidly transformed the market for the production, distribution and consumption of local content.

Australian children’s screen content is facing an existential threat as a result of several distinct, but interrelated factors, including:

  • an outdated regulatory framework and a related significant reduction in investment by commercial broadcasters;
  • the ABC’s inconsistent and discretionary commitment to children’s television; and
  • changing viewing habits among Australian children.

This paper outlines these challenges and proposes a way forward for the ongoing support of original Australian children’s screen content in the digital age.

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