Australian television drama hours have dropped 55 per cent since their early 2000s peak and the drama that is made is letting down the community thanks to inadequate government policies says a new report from QUT researchers.

Australian Television Drama’s Uncertain Future: How Cultural Policy is Failing Australians has been published on QUT ePrints, produced by the Making Australian TV in the 21st Century Research Team within QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre and funded by an ARC Discovery Project Grant.

The findings of the four-year study show that although federal government investment in TV drama is increasing, Australians are receiving falling value in return.

QUT researcher Professor Anna Potter said the failure of governments in addressing the impact of digital technologies has led to a situation in which corporate interests have been prioritised over Australian culture and identity.

“Australians once enjoyed freely available, long running series like Blue Heelers (Seven Network, 1994-2006), Water Rats (Nine Network, 1996-2001), and Offspring (Network Ten, 2010-17), as well as mini-series such as All the Rivers Run (Seven Network, 1983), The Dismissal (Network Ten, 1983), and Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War (Nine Network, 2012),” Professor Potter said.

Co-author Professor Amanda Lotz said this was no longer the case and that Australian dramas now being shown are increasingly not stories specific to Australia.

“There is also growing federal support for productions commissioned by multi-territory streamers like Netflix for global audiences. These dramas may be set here but rarely engage with Australian social and cultural themes in any meaningful way,” Professor Lotz said.

“Such services are focussed on maintaining international subscriptions and are not concerned with returning value to Australians in exchange for the funds and tax offsets they receive.”

Professor Potter said fit-for-purpose policy based on impartial sector expertise was needed in response to the profound disruption digital technologies brought to Australian television.

“Instead, Australian cultural and economic policy objectives have been muddled and policy has consistently put corporate interests first,” Professor Potter said.

“The sector’s major policy tools – the producer offset tax rebate and funds administered by Screen Australia – have operated with low levels of transparency and not been subject to independent review. Both have prioritised sector economic activity over the achievement of the social and cultural objectives that historically underpinned Australian content regulations and supports.

“Most recently, the government has even expanded industry supports with no Australian content criteria.”

The research team – which included  Dr Marion McCutcheon and Professor Kevin Sanson – found that levels of Australian television drama have suffered a dramatic decline in recent decades, with the diminished drama offerings from commercial broadcaster most accountable for the decline.

“In the past, commercial broadcasters Seven, Nine and Ten competed by commissioning hundreds of hours of drama to attract Australian viewers’ attention. This allowed policy including content quotas to deliver economic and cultural outcomes,” Professor Sanson said.

“With less drama now funded by commercial broadcasters, its cost is increasingly being subsidised by Australians through tax rebates to the production sector.

“The government is now one of the most important investors in Australian drama, but few guarantees exist that the tax revenue foregone is generating benefits for the Australian community.”

The report concludes that Australia needs to separate and redevelop its cultural and economic policy initiatives to ensure Australians can freely access distinctively Australian stories, not merely those produced here.

Read the full report online (

Main image: Dr Marion McCutcheon, Professor Kevin Sanson, Professor Amanda Lotz and Professor Anna Potter