Screen guilds attack broadcasters’ $1.35b investment claim as FreeTV calls argument ‘sterile’

The three major commercial networks spent less than $65m last year on meeting their Australian content program obligations local drama and documentary, claims a representation of Australia’s screen creative guilds.

This conflicts with the claims of $1.35b broadcast expenditure by FreeTV Australia, the industry body which represents the three commercial networks.

With the Convergence Review close to handing down its decision on local content regulation across free to air multi-channels, the opposing groups have been lobbying hard on the subject.

While the networks believe the current local content quota is sufficient, the guilds are lobbying for quota to stretch across the multi channels, which currently have no content regulations.

Today, SPAA CEO Geoff Brown has called the $1.35b ‘misleading’ as it includes a significant expenditure of news, current affairs and sport, as opposed to drama and documentary.

Brown said: “When it comes to telling Australian stories in adult drama, kids drama, and documentaries, the commercial channel’s commitment is relatively small. The average expenditure of $64.5 million per year by Seven, Nine, and Ten is cheap by comparison with the $465 million Channel Nine just paid for the NRL rights.”

However, Julie Flynn, CEO of Free TV told Mumbrella “News, current affairs, sport, entertainment and drama, that’s what Australians expect to see on their television.”

“We are the major underwriters of the independent production sector yet remain the most heavily regulated platform. We need a strong and vibrant production sector and they need a strong and vibrant commercial free to air television sector.”

The industry body states 45 out of the top 50 shows on TV are Australian-made, according to OzTam and RegionalTam.

Flynn also pointed to Screen Australia’s research from October last year announcing the TV drama sector had seen expenditure rise by 12%.

If the Convergence Review recommendations are implemented by the government, the free to air networks would require another 40 hours.

While locally produced drama such as Underbelly and Howzat rate well with viewers, Australian Writers’ Guild executive director Jacqueline Elaine said: “The cost for an Australian network to buy from Hollywood the rights to show an hour of one of the highest rating programs in the world can be one twentieth of the cost to produce that show and one tenth of the cost to produce Australian content. Given the choice, broadcasters will always choose the cheaper option, which is why we need, and have always needed, regulation.”

Brown told TVTonight: “We know it’s not going to be Underbelly, because the economics of the multi-channels are different from the main channels, at least at this time. But it could be Drama done at $350,000 – $400,000 an hour. It could be situation comedy, sketch comedy, experimental drama.

However Flynn told Mumbrella the topic was sterile and the guilds were missing the big picture: “This debate is very sterile. It’s backward looking and self-serving. The debate has to be what are we going to do when all these other players and platforms are in place.”


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