ABC hopes to keep Monday shows running longer

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

15 Comments:

  1. Its about time the ABC looked at this. The world doesn’t stop just because the ratings do.
    The news and current affairs content, particularly the “fast turnaround” programs should be on air all year. 7:30, Lateline, Insiders, etc. It is perhaps not so important for those with a long lead-time. It takes 6-8 weeks for a 4 Corners program to get to air for example, and some Foreign Correspondent stories can be filmed months ahead of broadcast. For those which provide analysis of current events rather than the investigative style programs, they should be 52 weeks of the year. Yes, that means crews won’t all be to take their breaks at Christmas – but all networks, including the ABC, deal with that now.
    And Media Watch definitely needs it. The things they highlight certainly continue, perhaps even increase as shortcuts are taken, over the summer.

  2. @ Ralph are you joking? You just asked the programmers to change the backbone of the schedule. In the absence of scripted drama I think the best Australian drama coming out of the ABC for a decade was Australian Story!

  3. Seriously …why can’t the ABC find someone to replace that supercilious smiling producer who somehow considers himself a presenter for Media Watch. If you ask around most people watch the program despite him……think of all the past presenters and it makes you sad.
    Just immagine someone like John Doyle doing it….we’d love that.

  4. Get rid of Australian Story that show is boring to watch on a Monday night. Spicks and Specks had its day a few years back and it was rather getting stale and was like watching Groundhog Day with the same guests and jokes being told. ABC should also not given Myf her own show if they wanted to save a buck also, she is terriable to watch on Spicks and Specks.

    With 4 Corners the ABC can save some money by not having Kerry O’Brian on it, as he doesn’t add any value to the show by doing a quick introduction and maybe an interview at the end for 5 minutes or so.

    I can’t watch that show any more Q&A with all the so called stupied tweets and non relevant guests that they get on that show.

    I am glad Leigh Sales is going on maternity leave she is a terriable interviewer on the 7:30 Report by asking a really dumb line of questions to her guests. Chris Ulman should get the gig full time as he is the best in the business with interviewing. It doesn’t look that exciting for next years factual side for ABC.

  5. Can we have Q&A with only occassional politicians please? All we get is spin from them? It is a shame Virginia Trioli is on maternity leave. She was far better than Tony Jones on Q&A and could have replaced Leigh Sales who is also on maternity leave.She is without a doubt the most well rounded, intelligent and canniest interviewer on ABC television.

  6. “The Life At… series plans to air every two years, this time Life at Seven”

    Does that mean they’re going to extend it beyond Seven? IIRC it was originally scheduled for four installments to tie in with the developmental study, but do you suppose they’ll make it open ended, like the Seven Up series?

  7. The ABC has no non ratings season. Why can’t all these shows go on through summer? Q&A, Media Watch, Insiders, Offsiders could have different hosts over the summer. Four Corners could just have episodes of Panarama from the UK or an equivalent US or Canadian show if it is topical to Australian viewers.

    It’s not like sport stops over the summer. ABC radio somehow manages to broadcast the cricket over summer. There is also the A-League, NBL and Australian Open.

  8. I am in the 30-34 year old age bracket & I find the ABC a must watch all year round! Currently I am enjoying Who’s Been Sleeping In My House? and Restoration Home.
    Other titles that were a must for me this year include Crownies (I am hoping for that spinoff), Bed of Roses, Grand Designs, Spicks and Specks, Gruen Transfer/Planet, In Gordon Street Tonight, Doc Martin, Laid, and Paper Giants!
    I am looking forward to Season 2 of Rake, Wild at Heart Season 6 andall of the above shows that are continuing plus some of thew sows appear to be worth checking out in 2012. So thanks to the ABC for a diverse quality line up.

  9. “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.”

    I like this. The whole practise of coding different parts of episodes just for ratings is absolutely ridiculous – it’s understandable to do this in finales of big reality series, but when the commercial nets start doing it in every episode like in Celebrity Apprentice, you know there’s problems. Most of the time CA only grabbed 1 million viewers at 7pm but jumped up to 1.3m at 7:30, if averaged out the whole program would be 1.15 million, which looks less pretty on a press release than “1.3 million viewers”. Hopefully this doesn’t become a trend in every show

  10. I love the idea of the Monday shows being on longer. Please continue repeating them too. As for the ABC being for the oldies. I’ll admit I remember seeing the ABC when I was 4 – 4 3/4 years old when Doctor Who was on. Also our family had a tradition of watching Four Corners on the weekend at lunchtime together while eating lunch at the dinner table. I know I used to love the show called Monkey and the Goodies. Plus so much more. I’ve loved the ABC most of my life. The only time that was in question was the Shier years when they attempted to destroy the ABC and nearly succeeded. So I hope they can continue to make some of the best progammes as well as see some great imports too. Although I hope it won’t be at the cost of getting rid of jobs within the ABC that are involved in making the programmes.

    Also will The 7.30 Report ever get it’s name back? Lastly I look forward to seeing the documentaries if not on ABC1 then hopefully (sensibly ) repeated somewhere else. I don’t mind late at night.

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