The way Australian content is provided by commercial television broadcasters is changing, as is the regulatory environment that governs the minimum requirements. From 1 January 2013, commercial TV broadcasters must provide 730 hours of Australian content for the calendar year across their multichannel television services, increasing to 1460 hours from 2015. In addition, broadcasters may meet their Australian Content Standard (ACS) and Children’s Television Standards (CTS) program quotas across their primary and multichannel television broadcasting services, while still required to maintain 55 per cent Australian content on their primary channel (7, 9 and 10) between 6 am and midnight across the year. The 2012 results are therefore the final results under a single-channel Australian content requirement.
Against this background, the ACMA makes the following observations about the way broadcasters have met their requirements under the program standards. These comments accompany publication of the 2012 annual metropolitan results of compliance with the ACS and CTS by commercial TV broadcasters.
First-release Australian drama composition
The ACS requires licensees to reach minimum drama scores for first-release Australian drama programs each calendar year—250 points—and over a three-year period—860 points. The drama score for a program is calculated by multiplying the duration of the program (in hours) by a format factor, which takes into account program genre-format, rates of productions and cost of acquisitions. Broadcasters decide the composition of programs in meeting their drama scores.
In publishing the 2011 results last year, the ACMA noted an increase in the number of first-release miniseries claimed by licensees as part of their Australian drama quota. Building on this, Figure 1 shows the combined network average of genres provided towards first-release Australian drama scores under the ACS, including 2012.
Figure 1 Combined network average of Australian drama points (%)
The comparable level of miniseries between 2011 and 2012 represents a fall of less than one per cent, while telemovies and feature film increased nearly 10 per cent in the same period.
In 2012, the Nine Network claimed four first-release Australian miniseries, totalling nearly 35 hours—House Husbands, Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War, Tricky Business and Underbelly: Badness. Network Ten provided three titles, totalling 27 hours—Bikie Wars, Offspring and Puberty Blues. Meanwhile, the Seven Network claimed nearly six hours of a 13-episode New Zealand program, The Cult, as their only first-release Australian miniseries for 2012.
For telemovies and feature films, the increase in 2012 is largely attributable to the Nine Network and Network Ten broadcasting first-release Australian feature films, purchased above the minimum licence fee set by the ACS. Nine was the only broadcaster to claim Australian telemovies in 2012—Beaconsfield and The Great Mint Swindle.
For series and serials, the Seven Network provided over 150 hours of new Australian originated content—Home and Away, Packed to the Rafters and Winners & Losers). The Nine Network and Network Ten, collectively claimed 34 hours of series towards their drama scores—Nothing Trivial (9), Go Girls and The Almighty Johnsons (10).
Due to a lower overall combined drama score output in 2012 (780 points) compared with 2011 (852 points), the hours of miniseries dropped by eight hours to 67.6 hours in 2012. Telemovies and feature films increased by 15.8 hours to 53.6 hours in 2012, and series/serials decreased 17 hours to 185.5 hours in 2012.
New Zealand drama programs claimed to meet Australian drama quotas
Under the Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER), the ACS must treat New Zealand persons (and services provided by them) no less favourably than Australian persons (and services provided by them). To this end, the ACMA considers New Zealand television programs may be claimed as Australian television programs for the purposes of the ACS.
For the 2012 results, every network used some New Zealand content to meet their first-release Australia drama score of 250 points. As Figure 2 indicates, Network Ten claimed the highest level of New Zealand content for this purpose.
Figure 2 Percentage of New Zealand content claimed as first-release Australian drama score
At a combined network level, New Zealand programs claimed towards first-release Australian drama have continued to rise over the last five years, as displayed in Figure 3.
Figure 3 First-release Australian drama score combined across network averages
In 2012, licensees provided New Zealand drama programs during ‘non-ratings’/summer periods generally commencing after 9.30 pm. These programs included:
- Seven Network: The Cult is a 2009-produced 13-episode miniseries. Seven broadcast the first six episodes in December 2012 (22.9 points of 266.1 score).
- Nine Network: Nothing Trivial is a 2011-produced series. Nine broadcast the final five episodes in January 2012 (12.5 points of 254.2 score). The first eight episodes of the series were broadcast and claimed in December 2011. The format factor applied by Nine Network licensees for the broadcast of this series was 2.5, which is the format factor applied to less expensive series.
- Network Ten: Network Ten broadcast the fourth series of Go Girls in December 2012. A similar scheduling technique was employed for Go Girls series two and three in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
- Network Ten broadcast the final three episodes of series one of The Almighty Johnsons in January 2012, following the first seven episodes broadcast and claimed in December 2011. The entire 13-episode second series of The Almighty Johnsons was broadcast between 21 December and 28 December 2012. Both New Zealand series were claimed as a format factor of 2.5, totalling 72.5 points of Network Ten’s 259.57 score.
Under the ACS, commercial television broadcasters are required to provide a minimum 20 hours of first release Australian documentary content (of at least 30 minutes) between 6 am and midnight per year.
A documentary program is defined by the ACS as a program that is a creative treatment of actuality other than a news, current affairs, sports coverage, magazine, infotainment or light entertainment program.
Since 2000, all metropolitan broadcasters have met their minimum first-release Australian documentary requirement. Historically, the Seven Network has claimed material well in excess of the minimum requirement. However, from 2007 there was a notable shift for the remaining two broadcasters where, for each year from 2007 to 2011, Australian audiences received double—sometimes triple—the first-release Australian documentary requirement.
Figure 4 First-release Australian documentary hours combined across network averages
As is evident from Figure 4, 2011 marked a significant decrease in documentaries from the Seven Network (dropping nearly 50 hours). At the same time, Network Ten claimed nearly a third fewer hours than the previous year to finish at 25.5 hours. Likewise, in 2012, the Nine Network decreased its claimed documentaries by 32.5 hours to just 21.5. Overall, the aggregated broadcast hours of Australian documentaries in 2012 dropped below 2007 levels by 21 hours.
While the aggregated broadcast hours of documentaries is at pre-2007 levels, the primary claimant of first-release Australian documentaries, the Seven Network, has increased the proportion of New Zealand originated content claimed as Australian first-release documentaries from 16 per cent in 2007 to 38 per cent in 2012.
In reviewing the type of program claimed towards the documentary quota in 2012 for the Seven Network, most are emergency services or law enforcement observational documentaries: Highway Patrol, Coastwatch, Motorway Patrol, The Force—Behind The Line, and Medical Emergency. These types of programs were represented to a lesser extent by the Nine Network and Network Ten, although they did claim significantly fewer documentaries.
Under the ACS, licensees must broadcast 25 hours per year, and at least 96 hours per triennium, of first-release Australian Children’s (C) drama. A further eight hours must be provided per year of non-first-release Australian C drama. Overall, at least 50 per cent of the C quota is required to be first-release Australian C programs. Further, under the CTS, broadcasters must provide, during designated periods, 260 hours of C material and 130 hours of Preschool (P) material per annum.
In 2012, all licensees met their requirements for C and P quotas. For the total hours of C and P programs required per year (260 and 130 hours respectively), the average across the three metropolitan networks was 262 hours for C programming and 130.5 for P programming. First-release Australian C programs made up 130.5 hours, just above the 130 hours requirement.
Comparatively, 2012 saw the lowest level of first-release Australian C programs and the lowest level of first-release Australian C drama programs in ten years, based on aggregation of network averages. Figure 5 shows aggregated broadcast hours from 2007 to 2012, with very small fluctuations in these hourly ranges compared to the other genres.
Figure 5 Aggregated hours of first-release Australian C programs (network average)
The complete 2012 metropolitan results are available on the ACMA website.
 Series that are produced at the rate of one hour or less per week and that have not been acquired from an independent producer for a licence fee of at least $389,000 per hour in 2012 apply a format factor of 2.5; those that have been acquired, from an independent producer for a licence fee of at least $389,000 per hour in 2012, may apply the higher format factor of 3. Subsection 11(2)(b) and section 17 of the ACS refers.