ABC1′s man on a mission
Channel Controller Brendan Dahill talks about his vision for ABC1, how he views Ratings and that programming move that pitted Rake against 2 Aussie dramas.
ABC1’s Channel Controller Brendan Dahill gives his first interview to TV Tonight since assuming the role in August.
The former BBC Australia executive talks about his vision to reposition the channel, how he views Ratings and addresses a programming move that pitted Rake against two Aussie dramas.
In taking charge of the channel under a restructured ABC, Dahill has spent time looking at the channel’s brand with audiences.
“You need to understand the foundations that you are building on and how solid they are. The foundations here are pretty solid. There’s nothing that’s fundamentally broken. It’s a good problem to have,” he says.
“We looked at the top 20 channels in Australia, so all the FTA channels and the Pay TV channels as well, and nobody really valued the entertainment values of ABC1.
“It was all of the Public Service values of the ABC that everyone was judging ABC1 against. That was kind of okay in the world where ABC wasn’t even ABC1, it was just ABC, it was our only channel.
“So we’ve been talking a lot about what is the “1-ness’ of ABC1? What is our unique expression of the ABC Public Service values in an ABC1 way?”
His programming team now have a new strategy, designed to crystallise what the channel stands for,
“The values that I would like everyone to take away from ABC1 or at least I hope they notice more about ABC going forward are the four ‘E’s: Entertaining, Engaging, Enlightening and Exciting,” he says.
“If we can get shows that do the quadrella that would be perfect.”
ABC1 will also seek to broaden its demographics, but there is a qualification about pursuing a younger audience.
“ABC1 has a really super-loyal audience but we need to grow our reach. We need to be more relevant in more Australian’s lives, more often. So we need to grow our reach and we need to grow younger,” he says.
“If we need to preserve the future of pub-casting in this country, and particularly in regards to ABC1, we need to be relevant to all Australians.”
But young does not mean aligning closer to TEN or GO!
“I mean mainstream Australia. The average age in Australian is about 38. But ABC1 skews older than that at the moment so I’m just re-focusing us back to the middle. I’m trying to grow our reach amongst those 35 to 49 year olds,” he explains.
Research has identified stay-at-home parents and working families as under-utilising ABC1.
“It’s working families, it’s families of Australia that ABC1 is not doing enough for at the moment. Certainly we’ve already got their older parents and we’ve already got their grandparents on our side. And the kids are already on our side because they are watching ABC2 and we’ve got the number one kids channel in Australia in ABC3,” he says.
“But there is a little bit of a disconnect between us and working parents at the moment.”
Without having the money to compete with Seven, Nine and TEN, Dahill is also “quite comfortable” with not being the highest rating channel, so long as programming has something, somewhere for everyone.
“That may mean that we don’t have massive audiences, but there will be lots of shows that lots of people like and love,” he says.
“I’m not in the ratings business, I’m not asked to flog advertising, so I don’t need to deliver eyeballs. What I need to do is deliver reach and I need to deliver value for money for the full public funds that we spend.
“If audiences aren’t responding to a show, then you have to look at where you’ve made a mistake and everyone has to have some way of judging whether a show’s connecting people. The only measure we have at the moment are the Overnights.”
One of his earliest re-scheduled was in pulling public-speaking show Strictly Speaking from 8pm Wednesdays. The show had been produced before his appointment.
“I did pull Strictly Speaking and that was my fault. I put it in a slot that wasn’t right. But it will come back in another slot, hopefully where an audience responds to it and where it’s not being put under the harsh glare of Wednesday nights. So that was my mistake- My Bad. I’d love to say we get it right all the time, but we don’t.”
With 20 years in the industry, Dahill says Overnight ratings would once make or break his day.
“By 10:00 in the morning I was either going to have a great day or shit day. Now I’m much more sanguine about them. Sometimes things work and you think, ‘Great that was exactly what was expected to happen.’ Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. And sometimes you just don’t understand it.
“So, they are a currency by which TV is judged. But now we have a PVR world, so Catch-up and Consolidated ratings a week later are much more important. We still have yet to find a sophisticated enough way of aggregating, what happens with iView . We have the number one Catch up site in Australia. So we need to find a much more sophisticated way of adding the impact of iView, particularly if you’re after a younger demographic.”
Much of the 2011 production slate has been in place prior to his appointment. Dahill’s touch will take time to resonate.
“I can’t take full credit for most of the shows. That’s a lot of hard of hard work by a lot of people before I turned up. Hopefully I brought a little bit more strategy and focus to what we’re talking about and the things that we are commissioning. Trophy Room is mine. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, it’s on me as well,” he insists.
“I know it’s from my 6.5 years here how significant sport is to the Australian national identity and I thought it was nuts that the ABC wasn’t doing something meaningful about sport and entertainment. Spicks and Specks manages to pull off the feat of being about music in a really geeky way sometimes, as a super-entertaining show.
“I know that sports entertainment shows can work because I’ve seen enough of them that do really well, so I really wanted one.
“But people have got to remember picks and Specks wasn’t a hit til season 3.”
He also doesn’t claim credit for Rake but admits early marketing deadlines saw him schedule the show in a timeslot that resulted in a 3 way local drama battle.
“I’ll be completely candid with you. When I saw it, I was looking to get ABC drama into the mid-week schedule. Tuesday night is a non starter because of Rafters so Thursday 8:30 seemed like the undiscovered territory to me because most of the year it’s a disjointed schedule on the other networks,” he says.
“So Thursday was where I had my cross hairs set on. Rush was there, yes. But Rake and Rush are completely different viewing experiences.
“I was quite comfortable Rake and Rush were sufficiently different that we were actually adding something new to the mix.
“We picked Thursdays at 8:30 within about three days of me being here. And the train was already going and then Cops LAC turned out up on Thursdays at 8:30! So I sat in here with people going ‘What do we do?’ And I watched the first couple of episodes of Cops LAC go out. And it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like it. And I saw the ratings. Given Nine’s history, I didn’t expect it to be there by the time Rake launched.
“I think we were up against it once. I think we had the three-header once.”
Based on the success of Rake, and with several more dramas to be produced in 2011, Dahill says ABC1 audiences should expect more mid-week dramas in the future.
“The more important long term strategic issue for me was reclaiming a part the mid-week schedule for drama on ABC1.”