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Child's play:
Issues in Australian children's television 2013

Child's Play aims to increase understanding of how children engage with screen content, and the unique challenges involved in financing, producing and scheduling children's programs in today's rapidly evolving media landscape.

The project draws together previously available data and insights from new research, building on issues raised in the Screen Australia publications Beyond the Box Office, What to Watch? and Convergence 2011: Australian Content State of Play.

Download the full report

The report presents findings in three main areas, drawing on a range of data sources. Extended research papers in each area are also available:

  • Focus on the child audience: Viewing patterns; child audience attitudes and behaviours.
    Download the report
  • Focus on the broadcasters: Analysis of programming strategies and program promotions.
    Download the report
  • Focus on the producers: Analysis of production and financial data from Screen Australia’s production databases, plus interviews with children’s content producers about their experiences.
    Download the report

Key findings

Children are a discriminating and potentially highly engaged audience, but influences on viewing patterns are complex.

  • Children are naturally savvy media users who can distinguish content made for them and prefer it.
  • Children engage with drama differently from other types of content; they are more highly engaged with drama on a number of levels.
  • What children watch is influenced by a range of factors such as parental control and time available.
  • Peak viewing across most channels coincides with the designated C and P program time bands, but the highest audiences for children are during early evening, when children tend to be 'coviewing' programs for general audiences.

Broadcasters' programming strategies for children's content are part of an evolving media environment that is creating multiple challenges and impacts.

  • The commercial free-to-air networks have moved most foreign children's content to the digital multi-channels and, as of 1 January 2013, Seven and Nine are also moving some of their Australian content to the multi-channels.
  • Children's programs on the commercial free-to-air networks – both the main
    channels and the digital multi-channels – are predominately packaged together into blocks.
  • While programming blocks on the multichannels tend to be consistently scheduled, the main channel blocks (containing much of the first-run Australian content) can be more variable, sometimes interspersed with
    general programming, and subject to shifts or cancellations for live sport broadcasts.
  • Strategies such as inconsistent scheduling have made it difficult for some programs to build loyal audiences.
  • A large proportion of children find out about narrative programs by seeing them advertised on TV. However, there is limited opportunity or incentive for cross-promotion of children's programs to the child audience given factors such as the restriction on promotions during children's programming set out in the Children's Television Standards, the need for the commercial free-to-air networks to monetise programming through advertising, and their tendency to promote
    their strongest properties, which are often general-audience programs.

Australia has an international reputation for
high-quality children's television, but this
content is getting harder to produce.

  • Australian children's programs are broadcast all over the world and have a strong track record at international children's television awards.
  • Children's drama is expensive to produce, but attracts smaller licence fees than drama for adults, relies more on foreign finance, and has been impacted by the rise in the Australian dollar.
  • Animation production has been growing since the early 2000s with more hours of animation produced than live action for five of the last six years.

The new environment offers opportunities
as well as challenges.

  • Dedicated channels on the ABC and subscription television provide examples of the potential of Australian children's television drama to connect with audiences, when thoughtfully programmed and promoted to draw in and engage child audiences.
  • While primary viewing is still live or as-live, children are increasingly watching content online, within parental restrictions. ABC iView is the only catch-up television service that has a children's programming category and offers a substantial amount of children's content.