Since November last year there’s been more than one, or even two ways to start your day. ABC2 has been broadcasting ABC News Breakfast since the US election week, providing a serious alternative to Sunrise and Today.
Being on a digital channel it can’t compete head to head with the commercial kingpins, but it is attracting growing respect.
Broadcasting from Melbourne each weekday from 6am to 9am, the show offers news, comment, interviews and analysis for those who are dissatisfied with the light entertainment approaches by Nine and Seven.
TV Tonight recently swung by the set to speak with hosts Virginia Trioli, Joe O’Brien and producer Ben D’Arcy.
“The loveliest thing I’ve heard in the last few months from people who’ve come across from the commercial stations as well as people who’ve come from Sky, is that you can have an informative, on the money, news-focussed programme that’s still entertaining,” says Trioli. “We’re still good company. I think that’s a balance that’s very hard to strike and I think we hit it consistently.
“We draw on the resources of the ABC which are far flung, both local and regional, bringing all of those perspectives and points of view. There are different news interests from around the country and around the world. Just by definition, it gives you an interesting show, because you’re opening more and more windows for your viewer each time they come back to you.”
Co-host Joe O’Brien agrees their programme doesn’t seek to mirror its commercial rivals.
“We don’t have the Hollywood cross. Britney and Paris aren’t a big focus for us. The ABC has an amazing network of international correspondents. We love giving them as much coverage as possible and showcasing ABC content that people may not have seen,” he says.
Newsmakers and politicians are a significant focus for Breakfast, as morning interviews resonate with News Editors around the country.
“Stephen Smith the Foreign Minister made an interesting observation,” says Trioli. “He said, ‘What’s great is if you’ve really got a message you want to get out there, if you make your point well by the 7PM News your grab is still running. If you stuff it up, by the 7PM News your grab is still running.’ So it’s a ‘nowhere to hide’ programme. It’s an open forum where all those news stories can get debated, and debated quickly and in real time. So that really sets the news agenda for the day, which is terrific.”
“There are repeatedly grabs lifted from our programme that are the basis for stories in the 7:00 bulletin each night,” says O’Brien. “And it’s really heartening to hear from journalists now that they tune in to make sure they are across the main stories of the day. We are the news programme of the day they’re turning to.”
Producer Ben D’Arcy, who starts work at the ‘luxurious’ time of 5am (3 hours after his production team), says Canberra is regularly paying attention to the show.
“It’s an important news-making programme as well. You’re not just turning on the watch the news delivered to you, you’re watching the news being made by the big interviews of the day.”
D’Arcy sees Sky News as a competitor more than the commercial offerings, due to its news focus. It now outrates Sky in the timeslot, recently hitting its best audience of the year with a weekly reach of 230,000 (individuals per 5 minute viewings).
Drawing upon the ABC resources, D’Arcy and his production team, most of whom are in their 30s, must react to news as it breaks. This was especially relevant during the Black Saturday bushfires.
“We were the first programme to show live pictures from the devastated town of Marysville. That was ground-breaking. It was something that changed the entire story at that point. Had we not been there then that story wouldn’t have been told, at least not until a lot later in the day,” he says.
News Breakfast was also the first TV show in Australia to incorporate Twitter into its programme.
“It’s very important for our programme that we enter into a conversation with our audience,” says D’Arcy. “We’re on a digital channel so therefore we have to sometimes accept that we have to reach out to viewers rather than just accept they will come.
“It also enables people to have their own conversation about the programme too. If there are issues running in the news there’s somewhere they can go to talk.”
D’Arcy said Twitter also enabled the show to be a day ahead of the rest of the pack on the Fiji flood story, by tipping him off to a story to pursue.
As well as Trioli and O’Brien, News Breakfast has a team of rotating contributors and additional cast members, weather presenter Vanessa O’Hanlon and sports presenter, Paul Kennedy.
“Paul Kennedy is a brilliant presenter and it’s great to have him on board,” says O’Brien. “It gives the show a bit of light and shade instead of being totally news-focussed. We’ve got good sports discussion every half hour with Paul.”
Adds Trioli, “We have really generous contributors who get up at a dreadful hour to come in and intelligently read the papers with a really accessible and interesting media analysis. There’s great goodwill and generosity towards the programme.”
Contributors help comprise some of the analytical segments that fill the programme around news updates. Viewers who tune in between 7 – 8, or 8 – 9 are likely to catch key segments that viewers saw between 6 – 7, much like Sky News meets a fluctuating audience.
“Our programme is broken up in that way. You can only give us 15 minutes of a morning while you’re dashing in and feeding the kids,” says Trioli.
“Hopefully in that time we send you off smarter on the way to work.”
ABC News Breakfast airs 6am-9am weekdays on ABC2.