THERE will be more Australian programs on free-to-air TV under a deal struck between the government and broadcasters.
The move comes after The Age reported last month that Arts Minister Simon Crean indicated the government would be willing to cut commercial TV licence fees in exchange for a guarantee of more Australian content.
Channels Seven, Nine and 10 will have to show at least 730 hours of Australian programming next year across their ''multichannels'' such as 7mate and Go! The quota will increase to 1095 hours in 2014 and 1460 hours in 2015.
''To make sure that we keep being able to watch Australian content, we are taking a number of steps to enable commercial television broadcasters to continue to invest in and broadcast Australian content,'' said Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
While main free-to-air channels have long been forced to broadcast a minimum of 55 per cent Australian programming between 6am and midnight, the multichannels have so far escaped such requirements, and have filled their schedules with American shows such as Seinfeld and Spin City.
Under the Broadcasting Services Act, an ''Australian program'' must be produced under the ''creative control of Australians'', have at least half its leading actors as Australians or local artists for animations.
Networks prefer to import hit American shows than experiment on Australian ones. It is a cheaper and safer formula and Mr Conroy had to pay off the networks to coerce them.
Mr Conroy promised to extend rebates and make permanent the cuts to licensing fees - which he had already lowered from 9 per cent to 4.5 per cent. The government will reward broadcasters who make original Australian dramas by allowing one hour of a new drama to count as two hours of local content.
Mr Conroy says the measures are part of the government's ''initial response'' to the Convergence Review.