Oz TV needs more drama

Mitchell wants gov to cut license fees

Australia’s biggest media buyer, Harold Mitchell, wants the government to cut network TV license fees and provide financial inducements to produce more drama series.

Only then will the fortunes of Oz’s ailing TV industry improve, Mitchell said Wednesday in the opening address of the Screen Producers’ Assn. of Australia confab at the Sheraton Mirage on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

In the last five years, primetime audiences have shrunk by 6% — and 16% in the under-40 demos — and costs are increasing faster than revenues.

“Unless we collectively act, commercial free-to-air television will lose more audience than it has already as a consequence of the emergence of new technologies,” Mitchell said.

CanWest’s Ten Network reported earnings of A$215 million ($165 million) for the last fiscal year, up 50% from the previous year, but increased expenses cut profits by 35%.

Mitchell argued Australian content is vital for maintaining network TV, but networks balk at the expense, especially of drama.

Locally produced programming attracts consistently bigger audiences than programs produced offshore, yet the volume of drama, for example, is very low.

“Only 9% of new fiction on Australian television, including the (pubcasters) ABC and SBS, was locally produced in 2005. By comparison, the figures for the U.S. were 94%; the U.K. 86%; and even the Netherlands, with a much smaller population than Australia, 17%,” Mitchell said.

Homegrown drama is just one of the hot-button issues the confab, held some 50 miles south of Brisbane, will mull before it wraps Friday.

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