Government maintains mandate for drama content

SYDNEY — Aussie kidvid producers are breathing a sigh of relief after the government’s extensive review of the children’s television guidelines — which include programming quotas for the commercial networks — left them largely intact.

After an extensive yearlong evaluation, the government handed down its findings Sept. 1, maintaining the status quo; the only controversial move was the lack of a ban on junk food ads during kids’ skeins.

These quotas — 32 hours of drama a year for the three commercial-free webs — are largely credited with Oz’s strong position in the kidvid area, particularly tween drama.

“Across the three networks, that means 96 hours of kids’ drama is produced every year, and I don’t know anywhere else that has a children’s drama quota like that,” says Jenny Buckland of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, the kidvid producer and nonprofit org that monitors Aussie kids TV.

Southern Star Intl. topper Cathy Payne agrees that “because we have had to produce it, we have become very good at it.”

Payne acknowledges that the leaders in the area are still Stateside with such fare as “Hannah Montana” and “Drake and Josh,” but she thinks Oz punches above its weight.

“What has worked very well for us are shows like ‘Blue Water High,’ and we’ve got a new tween kids drama launching this market called ‘A gURLs wURLd.’ We expect that, like ‘Blue Water High,’ that will sell everywhere.

“A gURLs wURLd” looks at three teen friends who meet at an international school, while “Blue Water High” is set in a teen surf school at a fictional white-sand locale called Blue Water Beach.

It is this last type of show, or its location, that Buckland also believes gives Down Under the edge in tween drama production.

“When we look at the shows we produce, the ones that have done really, really well are the ones that have focused on the great outdoors, the beaches, the wide-open skies — all those things that are really attractive about Australia,” Buckland says.

One company that has worked this formula well is Jonathan M. Schiff Prods., whose skeins include teen mermaid drama “H20: Just Add Water” and international hit “Ocean Girl.”

The third series of “H20″ — which has sold to 130 territories, including Nickelodeon Stateside — is launching at Mipcom this year along with the second season of “Elephant Princess,” a co-prod with German broadcaster ZDF about a girl who discovers she is the princess of a far-flung kingdom.

And there is a new development on the horizon that should help sustain health in the Antipodean kids industry.

Pubcaster ABC, after years of wrangling, finally received $142 million in funding over the next three years to set up a dedicated kids channel, ABC3. With much of the funds earmarked for content, the move is seen as the biggest advance in programming Down Under since the children’s TV regulations were introduced more than 20 years ago.

The ACTF already has a skein ready for the new channel: “My Place” 13 half-hours of historical drama that begins in 2008 and goes back every 10 years to the same house visiting different families to give a view of changing Sydney over 130 years. Skein is the first series from producer Penny Chapman (“Brides of Christ,” “Police Rescue”).

With demand not just for kid-targeted dramas but also formats, quizzers and docus, Buckland believes ABC3 will not just boost production but see it vary.

“Although the network’s had that quota, the ABC never had a quota, and some years they have been commissioning as little as seven or eight hours (of kids programming),” she says. “Now with that injection of funds for ABC3, there will be a lot of new stuff coming out of Australia in the next three years, and it will possibly be new producers too because they are looking for a wider range of formats.”

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