Concerns over ABC outsourcing production

The Union representing ABC staff is concerned the end of Spicks and Specks signals a growing broadcaster shift from in-house to outsourced productions.

The end of Spicks and Specks later this year has prompted the Community and Public Sector Union to question whether the ABC is committed to its traditions of ABC production over outsourcing to independent producers.

The concerns follow the end of factual program Can We Help? and interview program Talking Heads. Collectors has been “rested”, while there are rumours that The New Inventors is going to be axed.

In contrast upcoming dramas Crownies, The Slap plus Angry Boys, Outland and childrens’ dramas My Place and Dance Academy are all outsourced.

So too are Prank Patrol, Hungry Beast, while Rake and The Gruen Transfer are co-productions with the ABC.

Rumours have also long persisted that extensions to ABC Southbank (pictured) may not include a full-scale television studio when Ripponlea studios eventually close. ABC is yet to make a decision.

The union is worried about a repeat of two years ago when 30 producers were let go.

In an open letter to Mark Scott, Graeme Thomson the head of the CPSU’s ABC section writes: “It has demoralised the ABC workforce and reduced Australia’s most successful and efficient production house to a shell of its former self.

“The staff of the ABC call on you to make a public address to them about the future of ABC TV production.”

But an ABC spokeswoman tells The Australian, “The ABC is committed to a mixed model of internal and external TV production. We will continue to produce some in house and others in partnership with some of the best Australian talent in the independent sector. There has been no policy change on this issue.”

Recent Screenwest and South Australian Film Corporation deals have been put in place following the end of productions such as Can We Help? and Talking Heads.

Thomson said Talking Heads used to cost the ABC in South Australia $2 million for 40 episodes.

 “They then shut down Talking Heads, and they say it’s unrelated but they’ve now got a deal with the SAFC to produce a factual-style program. The ABC will put in $1m, the SAFC will put in another million and the producer offset (rebates) will be $400,000 and the ouput is 20 episodes. The total cost to (taxpayers) would be $2.4m for 20 episodes. The public is being ripped off.”

17 Responses

  1. I do believe that ABC has a responsibility to support certain sectors of the community. Take for example The New Inventors, and the rumours that it will be axed. Australian innovation needs a showcase to give exposure to industry and thus opportunities for commercialisation. There have, I believe, been numerous examples on the show of inventions which have been seen overseas and turned into major Australian exports. Agriculture is another case in point with a significant proportion of the inventions occurring in that sector. If we are supposed to be one of the “food bowls of the world” we are going to need every productivity improving innovation we can find to keep up with the ever increasing global food demands. ABC needs to think long and hard before touching shows like New Inventors!

  2. *Shrugs* This happened 20 years ago in the BBC and now the BBC is going quite well. They outsourced Doctor Who and it once again is one of their flagship programs.

    I don’t think this is an entirely bad thing, but all things in moderation.

  3. Cheers Dave, thats an interesting response. Quality has to come first. Was Tuesdays Artscape made inhouse? it was pretty poor quality considering the subject of the Vic national gallery. I do hope that the ABC create and tsick with more entertainment shows after bthe end of Spicks and Specks. I loved The Sideshow and thought it was extremely underrated. I would like Sunday afternoons expanded again. More cutting edge stuff like Set, the experimental music program.

  4. @Mike – i’m not sure it can. I agree with you (reluctantly, he says after battling it for a decade) that a goodmix of ideas and expertise from both within and without the ABC is the way to go. In some ways, it always had that. Even in the glory days, dramas and comedies were often collaborations between inhouse creatives, and independent writers and producers. In my view, the ABC earned its reputation as a reliable and cutting edge leader in storytelling and news/current affairs by cultivating a culture that wasn’t about money, nor ratings – just quality. Once the 90’s rolled around and bean counters prevailed, the ABC along with some heavy handedness from govts, altered its axis, while still sort of honouring its charter – only just. Private industry producers are about their glory, rights and profit – as well as making quality shows, i don’t decry or deny that it so, but at the expense of that history and independence, not only from the govt of the day, but money makers too. Why have a national broadcaster if its modus operandi is equal to 7,9,10 and Foxtel? Times are different, outsourcing across most industries is rife. It’s hard to accept, if like me, you have worked among artists and journos and actors who are there for the pushing of creative boundaries, not just the ratings and dollars. (Sorry for the long answer, David – but it is a contentious and complex issue)

  5. Outsourcing production to independent producers and production companies is the way forward. There is no way back to re-build bureaucratic empires and nor should there be. The real issue is making sure the commission are shared amongst the independents in an equitable way, not outsourced to international conglomerates like Endemol, Shine and Fremantle who will not give taxpayers good value for money.

  6. This is not anything new. It just so happens to be the public broadcaster who is doing it now. Considering the Govt is trying to save money iam pretty sure the ABC inhouse productions are a thing of the past. I am kind of suprised they didnt do it earlier. i think this will become the norm even more.

  7. @ Dave. How does the ABC get its culture of production back? I have mixed feelings. Hungry Beast is a great outsourced program but I want The ABC to have a healthy production output too. Perhaps the union will have to negotiate on this one? I dont think you can compare 40 eps of talking heads and 20 epsof factual. diferent genres, the latter would involve all kinds of location shooting. We must make sure we have a healthy culture of production all round and ultimately the best results on screen.

  8. Good News week was (not sure if still is) filmed at the ABC in Sydney in 2009/2010 despite screening on 10. Rebecca Gibney’s short lived panel show for Foxtel was also one of the first shows produced at the new Ultimo studios. The ABC has long pimped out its studios and rehearsal spaces to orgs like Sydney Dance Company.

  9. I think the unions are right to be concerned. However it is an idustry trend, you only have to look overseas at the bbc. Still it does mean thee will still be freelance work out there.

  10. All true, and the horse has definitely bolted on this one. I was one of those 30 producers kicked out 2 years ago, and the gradual shutting down of production goes back to 2002, and even before that. Core business of news and current affairs and maybe Play School is all that will be left. That said, The New Inventors and some of the initiatives from Sandra Levy’s time as head have run their course. Problem is, the culture within the org has diminished, so they have now have no choice but to look outside the ABC for collaborators and schedule fillers. The ABC’s heyday has long gone.

  11. So they want to get rid of cheaper shows that viewers love and replace them with more expensive shows that are less interesting? ‘Cos most of the shows co-produced I’m uninterested in except sometimes The Gruen Transfer. To quote an American General that the German commander wanted him to surrender when they finally invaded Europe and encountered problems: Nuts!!!

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