Government passes bill reducing local drama requirements for broadcasters

The Australian Parliament has passed the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021, which will provide community television stations in Melbourne and Adelaide with a further three years to transition to online delivery and halve the annual expenditure requirement for Australian drama programming from 10% to 5%.

The amendment bill will also simplify rules to subscription television captioning arrangements, clarifies the intent of grandfathering arrangements for licence area populations made by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), and extends the timeframe for ACMA to implement grants under the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund beyond 30 June 2021.

“These measures reflect the government’s approach to simpler, more transparent and more flexible legislation in broadcasting regulation,” Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher said.

The bill was in part a response to audiences shifting to watch programs on online services, which have no obligation to make or source Australian content.

“These reforms include measures to modernise Australian content rules for commercial free-to-air broadcasters, including simplifying and reducing obligations; and provide greater support for the production and distribution of Australian content, particularly in drama, documentary and children’s content,” Fletcher said at the second reading of the bill.

According to the bill, Australian streaming video services subscriptions totalled 12.3 million at the end of June 2019, representing a 29% increase from 9.5 million at June 2018.

The plethora of online services that have entered the Australian market has been rapid, and in the past four years, the percentage of Australians using a subscription video on demand services has risen significantly from around 25% in 2016, to nearly 70% in 2020.

The bill added that the percentage of Australians that viewed free-to-air television (over a seven day period) has declined from 92% in 2011, to 80% in 2019. In line with this, the audiences for the highest rating Australian television dramas on free-to-air networks have decreased dramatically over recent years. In 2016, the highest rating program had an audience of 2.92 million, whereas the top spot in 2019 had only 1.24 million viewers.

As the revenues of commercial free-to-air broadcasters have declined, broadcasters are comfortably meeting the transmission quota – which requires that 55% of all programming broadcast between 6am and midnight on primary channels each year to be Australian – they have argued that they are struggling to meet the sub-quota requirements for drama, documentaries and children’s content.


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