Just What Are They Watching ...? Andrew Einspruch Takes a Look at the Australian Children's Television Foundation

Article excerpt

IF YOU HAVE A KID, YOU MAY HAVE noticed that they spend the odd hour or two in front of the telly. And if you've sat down with them, or even glanced over their shoulder, you'll have noticed that some of it is good, and some of it is, well, less than inspiring.

Australia makes a lot of kids' TV. From Hi-5 to the Wiggles, from Playschool to Humphrey to Pick Your Face, there are plenty of Aussie accents on the airwaves.

But a good Australian children's drama--something they can sink their teeth into? Well, you have to look a lot harder to find those.

Why?

Because those are the hard shows. They're expensive. An hour of a kids' drama like Round the Twist clocks up $660,000 to $840,000 on the producer's spreadsheet. (1) That means a thirteen-part half-hour drama runs around $5 million.

That's a lot of money to splash on a demographic that doesn't completely control the purse strings, and on projects with relatively few marketing spin-off possibilities.

So you might be pleased to learn that the Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF) is strictly interested in the hard yards. This non-profit organization, formed in 1982, is in the business of making sure Aussie kids have access to quality Aussie television, film, and audio visual material.

Things have come a long way in the twenty-one years since they started.

'When the Foundation was created, there was little or no Australian programming specifically for children', said Bernadette O'Mahony, Head of Development and Production for the ACTF. 'The standards for C programming were just coming into place, and there was no quota on Australian children's content. Kids watched mainly American or British children's or "family" programmes.'

The Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) Children's Content Standards changed all that, by compelling the commercial networks to broadcast a specified number of hours of Australian children's programming (see sidebar). The effect has been dramatic.

When the standards were introduced in 1979, seventy-three per cent of all Australian C or C Drama classified programmes were magazine programmes, nine per cent were game shows, and six per cent were drama. By the period 1996 to 1999, magazine shows had fallen to twenty-six per cent, games shows had risen to forty-three per cent, and drama had increased to twenty-two per cent. The proportion of Australian programme hours in the total mix of what is shown to kids grew from sixty-seven per cent in 1979-1983 to eighty-eight per cent in 1996-1999, led by drama, which in the same periods surged from sixteen per cent to sixty-seven per cent. (2)

And the ACTF has always been part of that surge, creating a string of shows that you or your kids have including Round the Twist, Crash Zone, The Genie From Down Under, Lift Off, Li'l Elvis Jones and the Truckstoppers, Sky Trackers, Kaboodle, Winners, and More Winners. All up, they've helped create over 160 hours of programmes that have garnered sixty-five Australian and international awards, including the biggies--an International Emmy Award, the Prix Jeunesse, and a Japan Prize.

'We concentrate on the high end, hard to finance live action drama series, some animation and some documentary', said O'Mahony.

This year we released a new media product called Kahootz, which is a computer program that contains a set of 3D construction tools. [See sidebar] We don't make or finance infotainment programming for children or the lower cost studio based programmes like Hi-5 or The Wiggles, as these are usually produced with a network in-house.

The ACTF also does a lot of marketing, both in Australia and overseas. They're particularly strong in the Australian education market, where they sell thousands of videos every year, each supplemented by learning materials. The Foundation promotes its own programmes, and sometimes takes on other producers' projects, like the movie Australian Rules (Paul Goldman, 2002), which they're selling to schools. …