Louise Duffy ©RapidTVNews | 25-08-2011

Australians are watching less local television as networks favour cheaper foreign productions.

According to a report by Screen Australia, the proportion of Australian content has fallen from 52% to 38% of total hours broadcast since 2008. However, total viewing is on the rise as a result of multi-channels. The report compares 2008 with the first six months of 2011.

Since 2008, foreign content has increased by 154% while Australian content has grown by only 59%.

Screen Australia's chief operating officer, Fiona Cameron, said: "Audiences are fragmenting away from the main FTA channels to multi-channels that have no Australian content requirements and this has resulted in a significant decline in the diet of Australian content.

"In the multi-channel environment, Australian content is being drowned in a sea of foreign content."

Although high speed broadband will speed up the process of convergence, television is still the primary way of viewing screen content, she said.

Cameron added: "The strength of the US audiovisual production sector is unsurpassed and the trend to greater levels of foreign content will only continue unless new ways of accommodating Australian stories on Australian screens are contemplated.

"Australia has a unique sense of national identity and an important indigenous history. Australian stories reflect his sensibility and not only provide a valuable cultural contribution to our society but, importantly, generate a significant investment to the economy."

The report says that, per hour, Australian drama and children's television are the most expensive local content to produce, followed by documentaries and comedy. Screen Australia says the Australian television sector is experiencing "market failure" because US content-makers are able to sell their product more cheaply, as they have already recouped their costs broadcasting in their domestic market.