ABC News 24 will be “a steep learning curve.”
Ahead of the launch tomorrow, ABC News 24's Gaven Morris talks about channel scheduling and how it will differ from SKY.
Tomorrow marks a watershed day for the ABC when it finally launches the long awaited ABC News 24.
SKY News has been operating in Australia since 1996, and has proven there is a market for around-the-clock News.
Some 78 years after ABC Radio was formally giving regular radio News bulletins, now television matches it with hourly News, supplemented by specialist content every minute of the day.
Gaven Morris, Head of Continuous News tells TV Tonight the channel will draw on more than 1000 journalists in 60 newsrooms around Australia and overseas. Many of the broadcaster’s journalists have had to compete for airspace on ABC1. Now there will be a much bigger platform for their work.
“We’ve got journalists out and about across Australian and in international bureaus, producing news content across the day, it’s simply a matter of giving people access to those bulletins and live events throughout the day,” he says.
“Every hour, across the hour, day and night, there’ll be some bulletin, whether it be News Updates supplemented by other programming or a comprehensive news bulletin.”
Comparisons with SKY will be obvious. But Morris is determined to create a point of difference early on. Central to this will be the channel’s access as a subscription-free service, and the sheer staffing that is contributing content.
“We’re taking a slightly more Free to Air view of how we structure the schedule, so that we provide viewing opportunities that aren’t just News bulletins all day long. There’s a little bit of texture and variety in the schedule.
“Certainly the schedule will go out the window whenever we have a live rolling story or a big national event to cross to.”
Morris has approached the day in 5 content blocks: Breakfast, Mid-morning and early-afternoon, Mid-afternoon, Evening, Overnight.
At 3pm AEST on weekdays ABC News 24 will air Afternoon Live, at 6pm The Drum will provide an alternative to rival News offerings.
“There are 4 million people already watching News in a very structured format at 6:00 each evening. Rather than us add to that, I figured why don’t we provide some variety? It’s the one point in the day where we’ll still have brief News at the top of the hour followed by about 40 minutes of discussion from The Drum website, which has become a popular ABC outlet for discussion, debate and analysis.”
At 8pm it will offer a national domestic News bulletin, followed by The World at 9pm.
“We’re going for an hour long news bulletin at 9:00 that will also showcase a lot of our international reporting. I think the 9:00 timeslot for News is a real opportunity,” he says.
BBC World News will dominate the overnight schedule.
“Big breaking news stories often happen in our overnight period. The BBC are already covering those so it didn’t make a lot of sense for us to try and mount our own coverage for potentially a small audience,” says Morris.
The channel will also have a headline ticker on the bottom of the screen during most of its programming. There are some exceptions for shows with text translations such as Foreign Correspondent.
“We’re producing a good text-based information service already for ABC Online, so it will drive the ticker that appears on ABC News 24.”
The Quarter is a 15 minute sub-genre with varying News in Health, Environment, Finance, Consumer, Arts & Entertainment, Culture and Heritage, Weather, Sport.
The channel will also differ from SKY News in its international and regional content. Rather than only taking feeds from other broadcasters overseas, ABC’s foreign correspondents will provide an Australian perspective on international news.
“We also want to be reflecting things that are going on in regional areas of Australia, reporting on stories that Landline might report on, such a rural and regional affairs,” says Morris.
“There’s a lot of logistics involved to make sure that works for us and it will be a work in progress when we get started. But we want to try hard to make sure that kind of content is front and centre.”
As an HD-only offering the channel will seek to broaden its access by streaming online with chatrooms and social networking. It is the first live channel to be added to iView which until now has been exclusively catch-up TV. There will be iPhone and iPad applications.
“You can watch the TV channel and take it all in or you can go online and partake in conversations and see what other people are saying.”
Morris says while it will be largely an upscaled HD channel, the broadcaster will have more options once digital switch-off is complete.
“All the broadcasters are going to have to think long and hard about the use of their HD in the short term, but by 2013 when analogue gets switched off and everybody has access to digital television we could all be in a different scenario as to which channels they might like to put where.”
ABC is also conscious of the criticism it has attracted from SKY News and one of its parent firms, News Limited. Morris concedes there will probably be glitches along the way.
“We’re the new kid on the block in this area of News and there will be a steep learning curve for the ABC in getting its head around how to do live, rolling coverage. But it’s part of the reason why we have to do it. It’s part of the reason why the ABC has to adjust the way it operates.
“People expect to go to their TV to see live coverage, they expect to go Online and see it reflected as it’s happening.
“For the ABC in terms of television broadcasting, we’ve just got to be there now.”
ABC News 24 launches 7:30pm AEST Thursday on digital Channel 24 (launch simulcast on ABC1), plus Foxtel HD Channel 202 and on Austar Channel 24.