Producers seek to curb Kiwi drama imports

26 July, 2015 by Don Groves

Screen Producers Australia has renewed its call to prevent the Nine Network from using New Zealand dramas to fulfill its local drama quota.

SPA is also seeking an increase in the aggregate level of sub-quota obligations across all commercial free-to-air channels with a portion of this quota to be tied to primary channels.


Also, the producers' body is supporting the broadcasters’ plea to the government to scrap the spectrum licence fees in order to help offset their costs of raising the quotas for drama, documentary and children’s programs.

If licence fees are reduced, SPA  advocates safeguards to prevent broadcasters from redirecting the savings  into cheap foreign imports or to fuel a sports rights arms race at the expense of other local content genres.

SPA makes these points in its submission to the Department of Communications review of the changes introduced in 2013 which allowed the broadcasters to count first-release Australian drama across any of their multi-channels, not just their main channel.

As a result, in 2014 the ACMA found Nine met 51 per cent of its drama quota with Kiwi programming, compared to just 7 per cent for Seven Network and 4 per cent for Network Ten.

In its latest report ACMA said Nine had reduced the proportion of New Zealand programming to 37 per cent. .

SPA wants to limit the volume of Kiwi imports by redefining the first-release criteria to reflect the concept of a worldwide premiere and not just a program’s initial screening in the licence area.

In its submission SPA says, “The annual average of New Zealand hours screened by the commercial free-to-air broadcasters between 2007 to 2012 ranged between 22 to 48 hours each year. Since the amendments took place the combined annual hours across the commercial free-to-air broadcasters rose from 40 hours in 2012 to 120 hours in 2013 and 180 hours in 2014.

“This impact of New Zealand programing is the unintended consequence of the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement which has been exacerbated by the quota flexibility across the multi-channels in these amendments.

“We are seeing low-yield New Zealand programming placed on low-yield multi-channels to acquit quota obligations as the same rate as if it was run on a high-yield primary channel. To a risk adverse broadcaster this is likely to be a more attractive proposition than commissioning a new local production that might cost ten times as much.”

While the most recent data from Free TV Australia and ACMA shows overall spending on local content is increasing on the commercial FTAs, SPA calculates just one per cent is spent on documentaries and nine per cent on drama, versus 28 per cent on sports.

In real dollar terms, the level of annual expenditure on sports programming increased by 23 per cent whilst expenditure in drama fell by 6 per cent between 2010/11 and 2012/13, it says.