History of children's television standards | ACMA

History of children's television standards

The requirement for children's television standards (CTS) is set out in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. The CTS in their current form took effect on 1 January 2010 and seek to balance the viewing needs of children, the commercial needs of industry and community interests.

A copy of the current CTS is available from the ACMA’s website.

The following information outlines the development of children’s television standards for commercial free-to-air television in Australia and the variations made to them.

Development of children’s television standards

In 1979, the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (ABT) (the former independent statutory authority established on 1 January 1977 under section 7 of the Broadcasting Act 1942) introduced the children’s (C) commercial television program classification along with regulatory requirements aimed at ensuring minimum amounts of age specific, quality children’s programs on Australian commercial television.

These initiatives were the basis of the regulatory framework of the children's and preschool (P) children's television standards introduced by the Tribunal in 1984. These standards clarified and extended the rules introduced by the Tribunal in 1979 and: set out criteria for C classification; required that in each year 50 per cent of C programs should be first release Australian programs; limited the repetition of programs; limited advertising during C time; required a minimum amount of new Australian children's drama to be broadcast each year; and required a minimum of 30 minutes of P programs to be broadcast each weekday.

In February 1987, the ABT commenced a review of these standards which focused on the criteria for C and P classification and set the requirement for new Australian children's drama programs at 12 hours per year in 1990 and then 16 hours per year thereafter.

Following extensive community consultation these CTS, as well as standards for Australian content in programs, came into effect from 1 January 1990.

Introduction of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992

When the Broadcasting Services Act was introduced in 1992, it set up a new framework for the regulation of program content on commercial television. Regulation was generally to be by way of industry developed codes of practice. The two areas where Parliament felt it was necessary to continue regulation of commercial television through mandatory program standards, were children’s programming and Australian content.

Variations to the CTS

There have been several variations to the CTS since they came into effect in January 1990.


On 1 January 1996, the CTS were amended to include provisions relating to changes to the Australian Content Standard. The changes to the CTS incorporated the following:

  • a progressive increase of quality first release Australian children's drama to 32 hours each year by 1998;
  • eight hours of repeat Australian children's drama each year; and
  • all P programs must be Australian.


On 26 February 1999, the former ABA determined variations to the CTS, Children's Television Standards (Variation) 1999 (No. 1), which took effect on 1 March 1999. The variations resulted from the new Australian Content Standard, Broadcasting Services (Australian Content) Standard 1999, which also took effect on 1 March 1999.

The new Australian Content Standard recognised that while Australian culture and New Zealand culture are not the same, in order to comply with the Trade in Services Protocol to the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (the CER), New Zealand programs and Australian/New Zealand programs will be treated equally with Australian programs for the purpose of compliance with the Standard.

Additional information on this amendment is available in the former ABA's 1999 media release.


On 12 November 2001, the former ABA released an issues paper as part of its review of the Australian Content Standard for commercial television. As part of this, the former ABA sought comment on the difficulties relating to the production and financing of quality Australian C drama programs, whether children’s drama quotas should be maintained, and the definition of drama programs.

In 2002, as a result of changes to the ACS, consequential variations were made to the CTS. The changes included the removal of the 'primary school' focus in the definition of 'children' in CTS 1, and to the obligation of commercial television licensees to broadcast Australian children's drama.

Additional information on this amendment is available in the former ABA’s 2001 and 2002 media releases.


The former ABA made minor technical changes to the CTS which came into effect on 1 July 2005.

The variations:

  • defined key terms such as ‘C period’, ‘C material’, ‘P period’, ‘P material’, ‘live coverage’, and ‘community service announcement’;
  • adopted consistent terminology; and
  • ensured that the CTS were consistent with recent variations to the Australian Content Standard in relation to Australian C drama quotas.

The variations did not intend to set a new policy direction for children’s programming. There were no changes to broadcasters’ quota figures for children’s programs, advertising limits or the criteria used to classify children’s programs.

As a result of the CTS variations, the former ABA also made minor technical variations to the Australian Content Standard.

Additional information on this technical variation is available in the former ABA's 2005 media release.

On 1 July 2005, the ABA and Australian Communications Authority (ACA) merged and became the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

In December 2005, ACMA again amended the CTS to allow extensive coverage of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne by the Nine Network and its affiliated stations. This included a new temporary provision at CTS 25A to allow for the displacement of P programs during the Games coverage. In addition, ‘ACMA’ was substituted for ‘ABA’ in the CTS.

As a result of re-making the CTS, a minor consequential change to the Australian Content Standard was required, to ensure that past decisions in relation to the classification of C programs and P programs remain in force.

Additional information on this amendment is available in the ACMA's 2005 media release.

2007 review

In 2007, the ACMA commenced a full review of the Children's Television Standards 2005 (CTS 2005) to ensure their continued relevance and effectiveness. The ACMA determined the new Children's Television Standards 2009 (CTS 2009) on 24 August 2009. The new CTS 2009 replaced the CTS 2005 on 1 January 2010. However, provisions that required licensees to submit an annual schedule for 2010 by 31 December 2009 had effect the day after the CTS 2009 were registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Intruments (FRLI).

The key features of the new CTS are that:

  • children’s television quotas are maintained;
  • quotas can be delivered differently by broadcasters;
  • no further general restrictions are imposed in relation to food and beverage advertising;
  • certain provisions regulating advertising are maintained and strengthened; and
  • process improvements are made to increase effectiveness and transparency.

Further information about the review is available from the ACMA’s Children’s television standards review webpage.

Last updated: 14 February 2019