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Media industry in Australia needs diversity for its own survival

Media industry in Australia needs diversity for its own survival

Published October 17, 2017

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Free to air (commercial/network) TV in Australia is facing several challenges to its existence.  The economics of commercial television are also undergoing rapid change, both from competing technologies and from splintering audiences. Modern Australia, especially the big cities, is increasingly multicultural. This means that the historical mass Anglo-Saxon free-to-air TV audience is slowly fading.

Since 2008, the number of people watching commercial television is falling as Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) services proliferate. The introduction of SVOD into households appears to directly cut viewing of commercial TV across all age groups.

But it appears the local media industry didn’t get the memo on either of these issues. While there is now action to improve diversity (http://www.tvtonight.com.au/2016/11/aftrs-releases-diversity-report.html), it may be too late for much of the audience.

How did this industry broadly miss these social shifts, especially given that it exists to tell stories and sell information? It had the trials of the music and publishing industries to learn from, so how did it fail to react effectively to various changes? And how has such an insular media culture survived for so long?

On the cultural side, most of the people working in the television industry are Anglo-Saxon. It seems likely that this pattern recurs across creative, technical and professional roles in network television (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-06/fox-homogeneous-australian-boards/6449050). The lack of diversity[1] in Australian television – on both sides of the camera[2] – has been widely reported recently. TV advertising is just as Anglo-Saxon as the television shows themselves are (http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/why-are-australian-ads-so-white-20150325-1m7bi3.html). It may be that client research shows that their core (white) customers don’t like diversity, as quoted in this article: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/aug/25/australian-tv-is-not-diverse-enough-for-screenwriters-like-me-its-a-relief-to-have-proof.

What does the core audience look like in 2017?

Roy Morgan research (http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/6646-decline-and-change-commercial-television-viewing-audiences-december-2015-201601290251) shows one in seven Australians now view no commercial TV on a weekday.

What these points suggest to me is that this core audience now consists of those viewers with less choice. This may be due to either lack of funds or technophobia: http://www.roymorgan.com/products/segmentation-analytics/technology-adoption-segments. Meanwhile, good content exists, but increasingly it shows up on pay (cable) TV or SVOD services.

How fast will the picture fade?

The audience is aging, as digital natives are unlikely to put up with content that doesn’t interest them. Likewise, if people from migrant backgrounds do not see anything worth watching, plenty of other choices exist.

There appears to be a perception that TV based upon deeper issues is less appealing to audiences (Page 23 here: http://bit.ly/2byj31I). “Broccoli TV” is the nickname for such fare, as it’s considered good for you rather than entertaining. If the remaining audience sees ethnically diverse shows and advertising as “broccoli TV”, then the problem will worsen.

All of this raises some questions:

  • Do the local television networks (and their clients) have a plan to ensure relevance to a multicultural future audience?
  • Much of the current network TV content appeals to the lowest common denominator. Is this trend accelerating the flight of more discerning viewers?
  • How soon will network television become unviable if it does not generate enough sales and profit for clients? For the three main commercial networks in Australia, their share prices reflect this loss of value. These are down roughly 60%, 95%, and 96.5% respectively from their peaks over the last decade.
  • What does the state of network television say more broadly about Australian society?

[1] http://www.thevocal.com.au/imagine-a-world-where-we-didnt-have-to-write-articles-about-diversity-on-australian-tv/

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-bondi-hipster-characters-are-alive-and-well-and-working-in-the-media-2016-6

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