The now usual urgings from commercial TV to get rid of — or reduce their obligations to make — children’s TV resurfaced yesterday at a House of Representatives committee inquiry in Sydney. It’s an old tale of woe from the networks — Seven, Nine and Ten — and their complaint is that all this money is spent and no one watches the programs, and the ABC is there anyway with a dedicated channel. The usual commercial TV hypocrisy reared its ugly head at the hearing, but no one knocked it down.
The three networks want to save millions of dollars they spend on making programs for children and pre-schoolers (and push it all off to the ABC, without any extra funds) and then be able to sell the advertising time freed up by removing the restrictions on TV advertising. At worst they want to get rid of children’s programming completely, at best they want to reduce their obligations.
In testimony to the inquiry into the sustainability of the film and television industry, the three networks all said the children’s content quotas needed to be cut because it’s expensive, kids don’t watch it and it can’t be monetised due to restrictions on advertising during children’s programming.
Screen Australia says $110 million was spent on making children’s TV programming (that includes the biggest maker of all, the ABC), but as usual the real story can be found elsewhere: it is all about getting rid of the restrictions on TV advertising. If there are no or fewer kids’ programs being made and shown, then the classification periods should change as well. That would allow millions of dollars in extra advertising to be taken if the hours of kids’ program times can be gotten rid of completely or severely restricted.
At the moment the networks have to follow the current classification times from the code of practice agreed to with the media regulator, ACMA. If they weren’t beholden to the quotas and the related advertising restrictions, they could broadcast alcohol, betting and lifestyle advertising currently banned from being shown in designated periods. These restrictions mean a lot of ads can’t be shown during sport — cricket, football, horse racing, car racing. Advertisers would support the networks, as would their agencies, media buyers and other groups who would make more money out ending children’s TV on the commercial networks — or severely restricting it.
Getting rid of the costs of their children’s TV obligations would add to the $133 million saved from getting rid of the TV revenue licence fee (offset by the much smaller, “token” $40 million-a-year spectrum fee). Costs cut, revenue enhanced, a win-win for the networks, leaving the ABC with higher costs and programming responsibility.
This is what’s behind the networks’ latest bleatings. But there is an unfortunate reality for the networks: the commercial TV ad market is pretty weak. It has been falling for the past seven or eight years and the networks haven’t been able to stop that. If they could open up the children’s TV time slots to a broader range of ads aimed at adults, they would be filled. But ad rates would fall because of the increase in the inventory of slots. They might very well save money from reducing their children’s TV programming obligations, but the gains on the revenue side will be less than they expect simply because the advertising market has changed and Facebook and Google are stealing their revenue. (That’s why controlling those two giants is the next big thing.)