Tin: The Intertainmint Nitwerk

For 12 years the commercial networks have been able to claim New Zealand content in their obligations to show local drama. It’s time for that crutch to be removed, Colin Delaney argues.

With a certain layer of guilt, Australians have long claimed Kiwi talent as our own; actors Sam Neill and Russell Crowe, Crowded House’s Neil Finn, Keith Urban and perhaps in a couple of years, Paul Henry. However in TV land they’ve been able to do so completely guilt-free for 12 years.   The three big commercial broadcasters, in accordance with the Australian Communications and Media Association regulations, must air a certain amount of Australian-made drama. A point system for tallying the hours of broadcast must total a minimum of 250 points a year. Different types of drama get different numbers of points per hour. The regulation is to both protect Australian culture in the media, and to create work within the production sector.

However in 1998, a ruling by the High Court of Australia allowed New Zealand drama programs to be considered local drama content to remedy an inconsistency within a much larger economic trade agreement between the two countries.

For the first time since the decision, results released this week by ACMA, showed Network Ten would not have cleared its 250 drama points in 2011 without New Zealand drama content. Ten’s 27 hours of Kiwi content contributed 68 of the channel’s 267 points.

No network has even come close to relying on NZ content to hit its quota before. Data from 2002 to 2006 suggests that Nine and Ten aired no NZ content at all, while Seven carried just 3.63 hours.

But the numbers did begin to grow slightly from there, with Nine showed 11 hours in 2007, Ten showed seven hours in 2008. The loophole hadn’t yet been exploited.

NZ drama

Source: ACMA

Even in 2010, when Ten’s NZ content began to rise dramatically, it didn’t make the difference because of long-running series Neighbours. But shifting it to digital channel Eleven – where quotas don’t exist –  left a hole for Ten.

It’s clear that the networks are legally entitled to lean on NZ content, but is it morally correct.

Let’s not forget that in 2010 the networks won a quarter of a billion dollar windfall from media minister Stephen Conroy with the justification that it was to help them meet their local content quota obligations.

Clearly the growth of NZ content could damage the local TV drama production sector.

My concern isn’t about the protection of Australian culture in the media. If that were the case I’d be arguing more about self-sabotage. And New Zealand culture isn’t infringing on our sets the way we’re being invaded by bad US sitcoms and initial-based cop shows. The problem is, by accepting pre-packaged Kiwi product it reduces investment in true local drama production, a sector of the industry where too large a proportion of qualified film-makers struggle to keep consistent employment. I’m sure our film-making brethren from across the Tasman would agree – they’d like less Home and Away and Neighbours in favour of working professionally in their field beyond Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop.

To Ten’s credit the network wiped 120 points of commissioned local drama when it moved Neighbours. In the current landscape, I believe multi-channels are chance for experimentation – they shouldn’t be a dumping ground for The Love Boat and Brady Bunch re-runs.

Out of the recent Convergence Review was a recommendation to increase local drama quotas across the board but to also count digital channels towards the network’s total which would see Ten breeze through. But when Neighbours qualifies again, will we still see these New Zealand shows run? I’d like to think so, because Outrageous Fortune is pretty classic, but perhaps it would be dumped for more NCIS.

The matter of supporting a local production industry is minutiae in the much larger and long-winded Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement, but a matter worth raising if in fact its going to support both nation’s local industries.

Alas, in the face of the trade agreement, if the networks can continue claiming New Zealand content, I suggest we continue to take their talent, but this time guilt free. We’ll accept Shortland Street on 7mate on the condition Brett and Jermaine of Flight of the Conchords are given Australian passports and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw swears to the green and gold.


  1. Jim Shomos
    29 Jun 12
    2:56 pm

  2. Hi Colin,
    “…but is it morally correct.” Intentional or not, your sentence without a question mark suggests it is a rhetorical question. As it should be. It seems obviously against the spirit and intention of local content quotas that New Zealand TV content ever slipped through as local Australian content. Of greater concern, with the tsunami of international content flooding the network’s new digital channels, Australian content now makes up a far smaller percentage of total TV content. ‘Neighbours’ is only on Ten’s digital channel Eleven because production funding for ‘Neighbours’ is driven by overseas demand, mostly UK. There is nothing courageous in their decision. Seven, Nine & Ten have shown with their new digital channels exactly how little appetite they have for local content. They’ll feed us stale imported product because it is ultra-cheap. Their actions with their digital channels show they have no care for the health of the local industry.
    PS: You quote NCIS as a potential negative. Ironically both NCIS and NCIS LA are run by an Aussie, Shane Brennan… they are watched by over 40million people a week just in the USA, making Shane the most successful Australian TV creative ever.

  3. Colin Delaney
    29 Jun 12
    4:08 pm

  4. Hi Jim,

    Good point about Shane Brennan. Perhaps Ten could lure him home by commissioning an NCIS: Sydney.

    – Encore/Mumbrella

  5. Dave
    2 Jul 12
    10:48 am

  6. Aussie actors and technical people can work in NZ on local pay rates and conditions to produce all manner of TV shows, and deliver them at a significantly lower cost to the Aussie networks.

    The staff get a paid holiday in NZ and the networks get cheaper programs so they can make bigger profits to invest in even more Aussie content.

    Fairfax is now moving print media staff there for metro and regional publications, so why not move the TV newsrooms there as well, and anchor the news from Auckland or Christchurch and the networks will save even more money.

    Whether it’s filmed in Australia or NZ, it’s Australian TV content. Get used to it.

  7. Harry
    4 Jul 12
    12:29 pm

  8. The most surprising comment was that the ACMA head Chris Chapman wiped his hands of this NZ content saying it was as a result of the Closer Economic Agreement(CER). However it is clear that ACMA has the power to end this rort by the networks by imposing the same minimum licence fee for this programming as for Australian drama programming. The point is that you can’t discriminate between the two nations. ACMA has done nothing. The sad irony of all this was that New Zealand brought High Court proceedings based on the CER and won but New Zealand itself has no content quota for New Zealand programmes and has refused to impose them. So it ran a case in the High Court here that it was being discriminated here in Australia because it couldn’t access Australian content quota. That is chutzpah for you, completely hypocritical. If that 27 hours of NZ drama was made in Australia at a conservative estimate of 600k/hour (the average is higher) the coast is $16 million. That is two 13 hours series not made here in one year. Compound it over a decade and the impact on the industry is huge. The commercial networks made a promise that they would never rely on NZ content for quota. That promise is now completely broken. It is our local industry which suffers.