In Part Two of his two-part interview with TV Tonight, ABC1 Channel Controller Brendan Dahill talks about upcoming Factual shows and addresses some criticisms.
At the heart of the 2012 Factual slate are shows which look at Australian identity.
“I was really keen that our Factual slate talks about who we are and how we got here. We’ve got epic Factual that talks about Australia as a condition and Australia as a nation. It gives people a really broad sweep of our national identity,” he says.
In Factual there is the Zapruders-produced Country Town Rescue, John Clarke’s three-part Sporting Nation, history series Australia On Trial, the six-part Olympic Dreams, Richard Smith’s Australia: A Time Traveller’s Guide, climate series Can I Change Your Mind… About Climate Change? a series on how the First Australians adapted called First Footprints plus William McInnes in Auction Room.
The Life At... series plans to air every two years, this time Life at Seven and Dahill is excited about a series hosted by biologist Steve Simpson.
“Great Southern Land will have big to-die-for shots of bits of Australia that people probably haven’t been to and probably won’t go to. And there are a couple of epic docos we have lined-up for 2013 too, because the timeline on these is quite long.”
A year ago Dahill embarked on a plan to attract more younger viewers.
“I’m 15 months into a 5 year journey and the average age is starting to come down. This time last year the average age of our viewer was 58 and the average age of an Australian was 38. So we’re 20 years out of step with mainstream Australia,” he defends.
“I think it’s now 56 point something so we’ve started to turn a corner.
“We’ve got an audience that expects things from us and deserves things from us and I don’t want to alienate them either. So it’s a general shift of the tiller. If you move it too quickly you just lose everything, so it’s gradual change and gradual evolution.”
But while ABC1’s share dropped from 14.5% in 2010 to 12.3% in 2011 Dahill says ABC1 has increased its Reach, without alienating traditional, older ABC viewers.
“ABC1 is not going younger. ABC1 wants to be broad and inclusive. We want everyone to watch. We’re after inclusive viewing experiences rather than exclusive. We’re not going after 30 year olds, we just want more people across more demographics to watch,” he says.
“Our Reach isn’t dropping but there is a marginal drop in Time Spent Viewing. But if you look at most networks that’s across the board for the year in most Demos. In a year of fragmentation, quite a lot of networks are losing viewing.
“7TWO has hit us with some of the older audiences who are going to what used to be the ABC schedule ten years ago, now on 7TWO. So it has hurt us. 7TWO and 7mate have occupied a really distinctive space in the digital world.
“7TWO is like an ABC1 in some of the older demos.
“But I’m not going to respond to that by offering them a nostalgic view of what ABC1 was ten years ago. We’re trying to offer them new and distinct Australian offerings now that will tempt them back. There’s a finite amount of Heartbeat and Keeping Up Appearances that you can run on 7TWO before people have seen them, had their nostalgia fix and then you have to do something different.”
With so many repeats of familiar titles on offer, Programmers are having a tough time launching new shows.
“The difficult thing for Tim at Seven and Motty over at TEN, and we’ve talked about the same issue, is trying to break new shows in a multichannel environment. We’re all in a 15 channel environment now and it’s difficult. What the digital channels have is a nostalgia value with established brands that were around a long time ago and people already know what they are,” Dahill says.
“So if you’re looking for comfort viewing, they know what they are. But once you’ve worked your way through the nostalgia and they have to start building their own brands, it becomes more difficult.”
An on-going criticism of ABC1 is that too many shows end their seasons too early. Last year several of shows in its popular Monday night line-up wrapped in September. This year that was extended to October, but it still falls short of the end of ratings in November.
Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes has scoffed at suggestions staff are enjoying long holidays, pointing out that many are stood down and forced to re-apply for their jobs next year. He told TV Tonight the problem stems from budgets, with Four Corners the most expensive to keep running.
Dahill acknowledges the budgetary constraints, but hopes to improve on things.
“My ratings season is 52 weeks a year and I’m trying just as hard in summer as I am at the rest of the year. But you can’t just smack out shows 52 weeks a year when shows need a break to creatively recharge,” he says.
“We’re constantly in discussion about how shows can run longer. Our budgets are part of that equation. We’re looking at ways to make our Monday night line-up longer in 2012 than we have done in the last couple of years.
“Hopefully Australian Story, Four Corners, Media Watch, Q & A will run longer in 2012 than they have done previously. We’re mindful of the criticism we get over our Monday night line-up pulling up stumps after Melbourne Cup and coming back after Australia Day. Very mindful and we’re trying to do something about that.
“But what I don’t want to do is just crank out more weeks and have teams that are creatively exhausted and not doing their best work. I’d rather they did their best work rather than a lot of work.”
Finally, when asked for his thoughts on commercial networks coding shows as multiple titles with OzTAM, Dahill was firm.
“OzTAM was invented as a sales currency for Seven, Nine and TEN. So it’s a game they play, but it’s not a game we’re going to play. Ratings are an important measure of how we’re doing but they’re not the be-all and end-all. We’re not going to start playing the game of slicing things up into different bits.
“We could have done Spicks and Specks: The Final Countdown as a separate section of Spicks and Specks, but the fact it would have got 1.7m rather than the show averaging 1.6m ….and you know what, it’s our top-rating show of the year. We’re proud of that and that’s enough said.”
Part One: ABC1 upbeat about Wednesdays