In 2017, all 15 metropolitan licensees complied with their Australian content quota requirements. However, 12 of the 60 regional licensees failed to comply with one of the requirements, that is, the multichannel transmission quota.
The 12 regional licensees are all affiliated to the Nine Network and were taking two of the multichannels offered by Nine when their program supply agreements (PSAs) were signed. However, Nine subsequently moved a significant amount of its Australian content to a third multichannel that is not covered by the PSAs, that is, 9Life.
The ACMA decided to extend regulatory forbearance to the 12 regional licensees for 2017. In arriving at that decision, the ACMA took into account that:
the regional licensees did not have prior warning of Nine’s action to move Australian content to 9Life; and
the detriment to affected audiences was relatively low, as all the Australian programs provided on 9Life had already been broadcast on licensees’ primary channel, except for one program, Ready, Set, Reno; and
the amount of Australian content broadcast on the primary channel, over an above the relevant primary channel quota, far exceeded the multichannel transmission shortfall for all 12 regional licensees.
The ACMA considered that forbearance was preferable in the circumstances to regulatory options such as enforceable undertakings, remedial directions or the pursuit of civil penalties.
However, the ACMA advised the 12 regional licensees that it expected them to:
move in to compliance in 2018; and
conduct an audit of their relevant BSA obligations and PSAs, with a view to identifying gaps and how those gaps might be addressed when they negotiate the next round of PSAs.
The 2017 breaches were quite different to those in 2016. WIN and Southern Cross Austereo licensees switched their primary affiliation arrangements mid-way through 2016. This resulted in 10 regional licensees failing to meet their first release Australian drama quota requirement and 14 regional licensees failing to meet the requirements for first release children’s drama and children’s program quota.
The ACMA decided not to take formal action in that instance, as the affiliation switch from one metropolitan network to another was a ‘one-off’ event that did not lead to audiences in affected licence areas receiving any less Australian content than audiences in unaffected licence areas.
New Zealand television programs
The Australia and New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement requires New Zealand television programs to be treated as Australian programs.
In 2017, the three metropolitan networks broadcast over 23,000 hours of Australian programs, of which 409 hours were New Zealand programs, that is, less than 2% of total Australian content broadcast.
The amount of New Zealand programs broadcast by the three networks remains relatively stable, with the five-year average standing at 415 hours.