Low-cost TV rules as networks chase cheap news

New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows why commerical free-to-air broadcasters love news and current affairs: it’s dirt cheap.The reason free-to-air commercial broadcasters are so fond of news, current affairs and sports programming was made abundantly clear in new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday – it is dirt cheap.
Shanghai night field

According to the data, the FTA commercial networks produced 57 times as much news and current affairs programming in 2011-12 as they did drama – more than 36,000 hours versus 632 hours. TV news and current affairs costs just $14,000 per hour to produce, one-fortieth the cost of an hour of drama at an average of $560,000.

The figures will add fuel to the production sector’s concerns that recent changes to the commercial licence arrangements – in which the FTA commercial broadcasters were given a permanent 50 per cent discount in return for showing more Australian content, but of any sort at all – is likely to produce an increase only in low-cost programming rather than the more expensive drama, documentary and children’s content.

The ABS analysis showed that news and current affairs is by far the largest contributor to the commercial networks’ programming slate, comprising almost half of all programming. Sport is a close second, with “sport and other” content accounting for just over 40 per cent of all broadcast hours. Although the number of hours for this category was not given – on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality” – the maths suggest it was 31,513 hours – about 40 per cent of the total broadcast hours – at a total cost of $450.3 million. That equates to just $14,289 per hour.

The licence fee discount granted by Senator Stephen Conroy in March has been estimated to be worth about $130 million a year collectively to the networks. In return, each is required to broadcast an additional 730 hours of Australian content across its digital channels next year, rising to 1460 hours in 2015.

At an average cost of $14,000 an hour, that suggests they will be between $68 million and $99 million a year better off. If they fill their quotas with repeats – which they legally could do – the bottom line could be even better.

The survey of the film, television and computer games industries, which was last conducted five years ago, produced some other surprises.

The subscription television sector is now worth almost as much as the free-to-air commercial sector, both having estimated income of just over $4.65 million in 2011-12.

Total income in the film and video production sector – those companies and individuals actually making content – was $2.19 billion, an increase of 38 per cent since the last survey in 2006-07. The sector employed 13,414 people, an increase of 23 per cent.

But the value of the post-production sector has declined by 25 per cent over the same period, to $329.6 million, despite a 30 per cent rebate that has helped attract foreign film productions, such as the current Will Smith sci-fi adventure After Earth, to the country. Employment in the sector dropped by 21 per cent over the same period, to 2346.

But the hardest-hit sector was game development, which has shed almost 60 per cent of its workforce – down from 1431 in 2006-07 to 581 in 2011-12 – as large foreign computer games developers have shifted work back home or to other cheaper markets in response to the high dollar. Total income for the sector was down from $136.9 million to $89.4 million.

The sector was offered some small solace, however, as the first recipients of the federal government’s new interactive games fund were announced at a Screen Australia conference in Canberra.

Ten companies received a total of $6 million in enterprise funding, designed to help them develop as viable businesses over the medium term. Six of the companies were from Melbourne, further cementing the city’s reputation as a hotspot for app and game development.

[email protected]上海夜生活m.au

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.