ABC2 Live opera bombs with viewers

EXCLUSIVE: Has the ‘fat lady’ sung on the ABC’s live performing arts events?

Yes according to the latest audience figures. No according to the ABC.

Last week ABC2 Live Presents broadcast an ambitious live performance of Opera Australia’s Bliss from the Sydney Opera House.

The Neil Armfield production of the tale based on an award-winning Peter Carey novel included live backstage interviews, hosted by Jennifer Byrne and Chris Taylor.

But the broadcast was a spectacular failure in terms of viewer numbers.

Just 6,000 viewers nationally watched the live event.

On Wednesday it was beaten by the Chinese and Arabic News services on SBS. More viewers watched religious shows This is Your Day with Benny Hinn and Life Today with James Robison before dawn.

According to OzTAM figures, just 2,000 people watched in Sydney, 2,000 in Melbourne, 1,000 and Brisbane and Perth. In Adelaide, the city of festivals, nobody watched. It ranked at #331 for the day.

Amanda Duthie, ABC’s head of Arts and Entertainment, told TV Tonight while the figures were disappointing, the broadcasting of new Australian works was more important than simply looking at ratings figures.

“It’s not driving force behind the initiative and these collaborations. We have this fantastic strategic partnership with the Australia Council which allows a really diverse slate of performing arts to find their way onto primetime digital screens and regional cinemas,” Duthie says.

It was screened to Melbourne’s Federation Square plus regional cinema locations including Albany, Hervey Bay, Port Augusta and Bunbury.

“If we’re not going to take those risks, such as with the Australia Council and arts organisations or producer, then I’m not quite sure who is.”

But the audience for the 3hr live event paled even compared to similar events. In 2008 ABC2 broadcast Keating the Musical to 73,000 viewers, which was a record for the channel at the time. ABC2 Live Presents has also broadcast live performances of la Boheme, the Australian Ballet. In January Jai Ho! a live concert by Slumdog Millionaire composer A. R. Rahman, netted around 55,000 viewers.

So are classics or commercially-driven events such as Keating the Musical more accessible picks for broad audiences than opera?

“With heritage work people know what to expect when they’re going to see Cosi or Swan Lake. What we wanted to show was how Graeme Murphy engaged with Swan Lake and how Jim Sharman engaged with Cosi,” says Duthie.

“It’s about a distinct Australian take on those productions.

“Bliss is an all-Australian production with amazing key creatives, based on such an iconic Australian work.”

ABC even hosted a ‘Bliss-athon’ in the lead-up to the live broadcast with a Artscape: Making Opera Bliss and a re-screening of the movie Bliss: The Director’s Cut with an interview between David Stratton and Ray Lawrence plus a discussion on the film adaptation in Jennifer Byrne Presents: Books to Film.

“We provided other opportunities for people to get to know about the opera and to engage in conversations around Bliss,” says Duthie.

“We went to great effort to get that Making of on air before the curtain went up on ABC2 Live.

“Having the arts gateway and being able to rollout all of these different entry points for a work is pretty exciting and we’re not going to abandon that just because of the numbers.”

Duthie says the broadcast will be repeated at another time on ABC1.

“There will be other opportunities for an audience to come to it and by the time it gets a repeat it would have travelled around the country.”


  1. If Bliss was promoted so heavily, the message most certainly did not get through to the masses. The commercial channels have perfected ubiquitous promos to saturation level – I’m always aware of reality TV finals and new series. Given a feeble national audience of 6,000 viewers for Bliss, the ABC has much to learn about promoting shows.

  2. I think there were about 6000 promos in the lead up too. None I saw even fully described what it was all about. At first I actually thought they were just playing the film.

  3. Actually the music was wonderful – its only flaw that it was over-written and needed a few places of repose to let the audience relax. Likewise the set did a great job, which chimed nicely with ideas of illusion and hollowness in the story, and functionally let so much more happen on stage than could have otherwise. I’d actually like to see it used for other shows.

  4. I’d say the problem here was that the opera itself is a clamorous, self-indlgent noisefest with no meaningful staging except an electric wraparound. I’m guessing that the quarter hour stats will show a step dropoff form the first 1/4r to the second.

    The production is widely hated by those who have to perform it because it’s unplayable and unsingable. How could the ABC possibly have expected anybody to suffer through the length of it beats me. In contrast to the OA Midsummer N’s D I saw at SOH the other night, this pales. They should have braodcast that instead, many would have watched and enjoyed a fine performance.

    Speaking as a fan of modern opera – even a lot of contemporary stuff – this is a production that just doesn’t hit the mark. OA keeps commissioning original Australian works and they keep bombing with audiences and critics alike. They’ve had a few good shots – Eighth Wonder, Voss – but most of the commissions of recent years are indefensible.

    Braodcast quality seemed okay to me in the twenty minutes we stuck it out – audio was okay – it’s a live braodcast people, they’re technically hard to pull off even when the music is good. ABC should ditch the Chaser guy though. Everyone knows his shtick and his presence just jarrs.

  5. What publicity did this program have. I didn’t even know that it was a live broadcast from the Sydney Opera House and by Opera Australia. Maybe ABC needs to publicize these events more widely.

  6. I watched the Making Of Bliss and enjoyed that because it was interesting and looked exciting but I have to admit the look of the LED’s all over the place thru me during the Live show, it became too much of a distraction. I will go and see it live to get a better idea, I hope it works because there are far to many imported shows in our theatres and we need to support the one have when they try something new ….

  7. My husband and I had watched it and our eyes watered witnessing the poor quality of the sound and visuals.

    I really feel bad for anyone who’s only opportunity to see this performed is on tv or at the cinema broadcasts. I think that ABC2 ought to spend some money on getting some tech’s and engineers on the job to improve the quality of the broadcast.

    Also for those who ask why the ABC should bother to broadcast something like this, should remember that it is in the ABC’s charter to broadcast cultural as well as sporting events, if the ABC didn’t pick up the slack I doubt any of the commercial channels or SBS would broadcast this or many other events such as the Paralympics. The ABC is right to stick with its decision.

  8. Surely Wednesday night was a fool’s errand anyway, given the popular content already airing on other networks that night???? I might have tuned in if not for that….

  9. Opera, particularly Australian Opera is pretty niche particularly amongst digital viewers. I’m not surprised it did so poorly. Their Keating live broadcast was terrible. Great show, great performances, looked like it was lit with a match, distracting cut aways to famous audience members and very average hosting. I wonder how many people bought tickets to watch Bliss in a cinema? I agree it’s great to broadcast new Australian work but if there is pretty much zero audience for it with so much promotion then surely they need to rethink what they are broadcasting.

  10. The OB and costs must have been at least 250k, so we’re talking about $50 a viewer – it would have been cheaper to buy them all tickets to the actual performance.

  11. The picture quality of ABC2 is consistently appalling. I’m not sure of the specific technical terms, but the pixelation or digital noise that comes through when there is any fast camera moves or lighting changes makes it almost unwatchable. I caught a couple of minutes of their live recording of The Veronicas, and something that was clearly very well shot and lit was ruined by the compression. The camera men must cry when they see their work go to air.

  12. I love the movie of Bliss, so I watched the making of to check this out and was put off it completely!
    What an arty farty load of crap, no way a Bliss fan could watch that!

  13. I actually sat through it and was very disappointed. The music was apalling and did not match the singing. It was just clanging sounds, nothing melodic or memorable. The actual presentation and story were fine – but the music spoiled it.

  14. Nobody watched in Adelaide, hahaha classic. There is no way I would be watching this. Plus, was there even much promotion for it? I didnt see it advertised and I often view ABC1/2

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