Children’s TV system ‘broken’: TV heads

Major TV networks in Australia have once again called for children’s TV quotas to be reviewed, with Ten CEO Paul Anderson arguing the system is broken and Foxtel’s Peter Tonagh saying the subscription television operator is “not good” at creating programming for younger people.

Anderson argued children’s television remained commercially unviable and the current regulation – requiring commercial free-to-air networks to have 260 hours of C-classified programs and 130 hours for pre-school children – was unfair. “What we’re saying is the system is broken and needs a review. We are not saying that there should not be children’s programming commissioned for Australian children,” he said.

Anderson (left) on stage with Max Mason discussing programming quotas

Commercial realities, Anderson argued, can no longer be ignored.

“I think we should be clear that children’s programming has always lost money, but in the past the networks I think sucked it up as part of your licensing regime. That world has now changed and children are not watching that, so you can’t monetise it. The amount of children that are watching it is so small that that just needs to be redistributed somewhere else.

“There’s a solution for it. We’re not saying that money shouldn’t be spent on children’s programming. It just needs to be spent in a more efficient way or a better way.”

As to why the commercial networks had been relentless and persistent with their campaign against quotas, Anderson said it was simple: the facts and figures supported the argument.

“We’re stating the facts that the world has changed. The facts are that at the moment there’s a regulation, there’s a quota that says we need to have a certain amount of C and P programming across our network. The reality is that the options that children have these days – the dedicated ad-free channel that ABC Kids have – means that the number of children watching our shows is incredibly small and I think for some of our more successful ones, it’s sort of 2,000 and 3,000. [viewers],” he said.

“So what we’re saying is the system is broken and needs a review. We are not saying that there should not be children’s programming commissioned for Australian children.

“The fact is that you’ve got Netflix, you’ve got YouTube, you’ve got a dedicated channel on ABC that is ad free and the facts and the ratings speak for themselves. Being forced to spend a certain amount of money each year just does not make sense. So, we’re saying that that needs to be reviewed and there’s a bunch of different ways that that can be worked through. The money that we’re spending would be far better to be spent either on drama or on local production.”

Both Anderson and Tonagh also said commercial networks aren’t well positioned to create the content, particularly if they have to compete with the likes of the ABC and digital-only players such as YouTube and Netflix.

“We’re not arguing in any way for children’s quotas, because we don’t think it’s the most effective way to make great culturally relevant Australian kids’ programs,” Tonagh said.

“For us, we’ve got to be really clear on what you want to do and don’t want to do. We value children’s programming highly, very highly and we’ve got channel partners including Nickelodeon and Turner and Disney and BBC, Discovery, who create great children’s programming. We’re not good at creating children’s programming and I don’t see a role for us  as a platform creating children’s programming. I’d love for our channel partners to have more access to funding to be able to create it.”

Tonagh (left): Foxtel does not have kids’ TV creation capabilities

Quotas, he said, are not the answer to creating quality content for the nation’s youngest people.

“But I think, my personal view, and again this is not necessarily a Foxtel view, but my personal view is that quotas for children’s programming don’t seem to be delivering the outcomes that we need. And we would be better with a model where we had a pool of funding that was contestable by anyone and that should include us, but as for Foxtel directly commissioning children’s programming, it’s not something that I’m interested in doing because it’s not an area where we have the skills or capabilities that others who are on our platform have,” he said.

The comments echo those espoused by right-wing think tank Institute of Public Affairs [IPA]. Yesterday at Screen Forever adjunct professor Georgina Downer said the free market should determine a broadcaster’s content mix, not government regulation or intervention, noting her children use YouTube and Netflix, favouring international programming rather than local broadcasting.

“I have small children and they watch ABC 4 Kids when they’re watching TV. And aside from Jimmy Giggle, who’s quite possibly one of the most irritating characters on TV – he’s Australian – aside from that the shows are all overseas shows. Peppa Pig is a British Show, Octonauts, they’re not Australian shows.

“So my kids almost solely watch that when they’re watching broadcast TV, and then of course, they have discovered the delights of YouTube, the delights of Netflix, so these local content obligations are all very well for producers, but we are talking, surely, about what society is consuming. Because of Netflix, because of YouTube, because of all the on-demand options we have on the internet, people aren’t going to watch what you force them to watch on the commercial, on the ABC, on the television anymore. They’re going to watch what they want.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.