Bright outlook for children’s TV, with caveats
The production of children’s TV in Australia has a more sustainable future than ever despite audience fragmentation and the squeeze on licence fees, according to a new book.
However the sector does face the risk of the commercial free-to-air networks continuing to reduce their investment in local children’s content, and of budget cuts crimping the ABC’s commitment to kids TV.
Anna Potter’s tome Creativity, Culture & Commerce: Producing Australian Children’s Television With Public Value was launched at the Australian Children's Television Foundation in Melbourne today.
A senior lecturer in screen and media studies at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Potter takes a swipe at the ACMA, suggesting its C drama classification is no longer a marker of quality.
Of 78 applications for a C rating between 2008 and 2013 while there was an exponential increase in animation, only one was refused by the regulator.
“Such a success rate suggests producers are either extraordinarily good at responding to the CTS criteria or that the ACMA is at risk of becoming something of a rubber stamp on C drama rather than a gatekeeper of public value,” Potter writes.
Animated co-productions between Australian and international companies have qualified as Australian children’s drama even though they are difficult to identify as Australian.
She asserts children’s live action drama is now one of TV’s most vulnerable genres, blaming the shift in audiences viewing across multiple channels and platforms, leading to downward pressure on licence fees.
But she welcomes the involvement of super-indies such as Matchbox Pictures and Endemol in producing kids’ drama, mostly co-funded by Screen Australia.
In a further cause for optimism, she points to the emergence of streaming giant Netflix (which bought Jonathan M Shiff’s Mako Mermaids in 2013) as opening new frontiers for content delivery.
She predicts broadcasters eventually may become redundant in the commissioning and distribution process as producers begin to distribute their programs directly to subscribers.
“The production practices of transnational super- indies in Australia and a trend towards internationalisation in Australian screen policy settings suggest Australian children’s drama production has a more sustainable future than ever,” she concludes.
“Unfortunately in the creation of these new business models for children’s television, the public value of Australian children’s television is rarely considered by an industry with a growing sense of entitlement.“
Launching the book, ACTF chair Janet Holmes à Court said, "Anna is exploring a significant issue, asking whether the protections that we have in place to support children’s production in Australia – the regulations, and the subsidy from organisations like the ACTF and Screen Australia – are still meeting the public value principles that inspired their inception in the first place.
"Anna outlines how this industry is changing in the digital era, and asks all of us, but especially policy makers, to consider how best we can secure public value for public investment in children’s television, and in turn for the children’s audience, in a new age of niche channels, fragmented audiences and ever increasing globalisation."