Glut of im­ports

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Net­works un­der fire over cash hand­out

HERE is noth­ing like a $250 mil­lion gov­ern­ment hand­out to bring the crit­ics out of the wood­work. Just ask the freeto-air TV net­works — Seven, Nine and Ten — which are un­der pres­sure to in­crease their level of Aus­tralian con­tent af­ter the Gov­ern­ment’s re­cent $250 mil­lion li­cence re­bate.

The Rudd Gov­ern­ment jus­ti­fied the re­bate by say­ing it had grave con­cerns’’ the net­works would not meet their lo­cal-con­tent quo­tas, let alone in­crease them.

The net­works now have a 55 per cent lo­cal-con­tent quota be­tween 6am and mid­night as part of their TV li­cence con­di­tions.

Crit­ics of the re­bate, how­ever, have pounced on the net­works’ claimed lack of com­mit­ment to lo­cal con­tent.

The lo­cal quo­tas don’t ap­ply to the new TV free-to-air dig­i­tal chan­nels — GO!, 7TWO and OneHD.

On top of that, New Zealand pro­grams have been

dumped’’ on Aus­tralian TV as the three com­mer­cial net­works ex­ploit a sneaky way around lo­cal-con­tent rules.

Un­der the Closer Eco­nomic Re­la­tions agree­ment be­tween Aus­tralia and New Zealand, Kiwi-made pro­grams such as

and count un­der Aus­tralian­con­tent quota re­quire­ments.

Screen Pro­duc­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ge­off Brown says it’s one of sev­eral con­tent is­sues that need ad­dress­ing ur­gently.

While we un­der­stand there was a High Court de­ci­sion that said . . . you can­not dis­crim­i­nate un­der the CER be­tween Aus­tralian and New Zealand pro­grams — it was never en­vis­aged we would see, in ef­fect, a dump­ing of New Zealand pro­grams on the Aus­tralian mar­ket,’’ Brown says.

The lo­cal-con­tent is­sue has be­come more press­ing since the launch of the net­works’ dig­i­tal multi-chan­nels.

In­dus­try es­ti­mates for the first week of 2010 sug­gest that Nine’s dig­i­tal chan­nel GO! had only 3.2 per cent lo­cal con­tent; Seven Net­work’s 7TWO had 15.1 per cent; and Net­work Ten’s One HD had 14.3 per cent.

The Gov­ern­ment has got to move swiftly to put in place a con­tent regime for mul­ti­chan­nels,’’ Brown says.

GO! pro­gram di­rec­tor Les Samp­son ad­mits the chan­nel has an im­bal­ance.

We have a lot of Amer­i­can and UK con­tent on the chan­nel. It’s im­por­tant to look at lo­cal con­tent but it comes down to cost,’’ Samp­son says.

Those costs can be sub­stan­tial. An hour of Aust- ralian drama will cost about $500,000. Re­al­ity shows are cheaper but come with mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar for­mat rights.

Most re­cent Aus­tralian Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Au­thor­ity data for 2008, re­leased in July last year, put Seven’s lo­cal-con­tent quota at 64 per cent, Nine at 61 per cent and Ten at 56.4 per cent.

There is no guar­an­tee that any of the $250 mil­lion re­bate will go to­wards cre­at­ing Aus­tralian con­tent.

Fox­tel CEO Kim Wil­liams is livid at the Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion. Our com­peti­tors have been gifted a $250 mil­lion head­start,’’ Wil­liams has said in a news­pa­per col­umn.

The broad­cast­ing li­cences aren’t li­cences to com­pete, they’re li­cences to print money.’’

Me­dia an­a­lyst Steve Allen be­lieves, how­ever, that the cur­rent rage against the TV net­works is a lot of mis­chief led by vo­cal mi­nori­ties’’.

It has been one of the nas­ti­est times for TV and I’m sure Se­na­tor (Stephen) Con­roy doesn’t want to slow the slate of Aus­tralian pro­grams al­ready in de­vel­op­ment by the net­works,’’ Allen says.

This no­tion has be­come pop­u­lar that th­ese (Aus­tralian TV ex­ec­u­tives) are lazy boffins who have an easy ride, but I don’t agree.’’

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