Five years ago, the National Indigenous Television service had big dreams but humble beginnings.
Channel Manager Tanya Denning remembers it well.
“We started on a verandah in Alice Springs back in 2007. I was part of the first group of people recruited for the service. We didn’t quite know what it would evolve into,” she says.
“We were set up under the Arts portfolio at the time by the Coalition and Helen Coonan was our Minister.
“We were instructed to work with the Indigenous production sector to grow the sector and create a channel at the same time. The early days of any public broadcaster is always a bit challenging and there were always disputes over what kind of channel NITV should be.”
Since then the channel has grown steadily in regional Australia and via Foxtel. This week another dream is realised as it joins the SBS suite of channels.
On Wednesday at 12 midday AEDT it can be seen across the country on channel 34 and Foxtel channel 180, beginning with a two hour broadcast from Uluru hosted by Stan Grant and Rhoda Roberts. Australians will then see a 24 hour channel with Indigenous news and current affairs specials, documentaries, sport, children’s programming, film and more.
“We have evolved our Programming schedule against our Vision Statement which is ‘Awakening and uniting through sharing and celebrating the unique experiences and imagination of Australia’s first peoples,'” Denning explains.
“That’s broken into 7 words such as Awakening on our Tuesdays becomes our power day where you will see a lot of hard-hitting Documentaries made by us. We have a day of Sharing where you will see International content from world Indigenous peoples.
“Thursdays is a male-skewed day with sport and entertainment and our sports panels shows. And we have a day of cultural community programmes as well.
“We have stand-up comedy and we want to grow the comedy genre a lot more. We do 7 hours of children’s programming every day. There’s a puppet programme, animation, and a concerted effort by NITV to ensure that our communities stay in touch with their culture through language.”
Stan Grant, who was recently announced as returning to SKY News from CNN, will also have shared roles with NITV. The station offers a live half hour news bulletin.
Since the government provided funding for NITV to continue within SBS, Denning has been able to retain most of her 45 staff and commission new productions.
“80% of my staff are Aboriginal / Torres Strait Islanders, so it’s not just about the writers and directors. I’ve got lawyers, programmers, schedulers, marketing all within the business and there are production companies all over Australia,” she says.
“We’ve commissioned a 3rd season of Move it Mob Style (pictured) by Sydney based Vibe Australia, and a finance show called In the Black with a Brisbane production company, we’re working with a company in Melbourne on a Drama series which is still in development.”
Previously the channel estimated its audience was around 250,000 viewers, now through SBS it accesses a national audience and falls within SBS ratings, scheduling and revenue.
“This time next year I’ll be able to see a trend and really understand who’s watching. I will maintain we need to be vision driven as opposed to ratings but it will be an interesting new world for us. And of course with NITV we’ll bring those figures to SBS as well.
“We’ll have a similar approach to ads as SBS. We’ve had sprinklings of community service announcements and the occasional sponsorship but it’s been quite ad hoc. Going into SBS we have a proper commercial system going into our scheduling.
“Under the SBS Act it will be 5 minutes (of ads) per hour but I’m still mindful not to push the envelope with the brand. We’ve worked extremely hard to create the brand and we don’t want to sprinkle it with all sorts of different ads.”
As part of the SBS playout system, NITV also benefits from being able to programme according to time zones. Previously it was one broadcast across timezones, which impacted on classification limits. M Rated movies couldn’t play until midnight to ensure it fell within M timezones in other states.
“We’ll be able to have good M Rated programmes within primetime now,” she laughs.
Also under consideration is a home for Marngrook Footy Show -previously a part of NITV before it moved to ABC.
“We’re looking and discussing with the AFL and the producers of Marngrook to see if there’s a way we can bring it to Australian audiences again.
“I know the producers of Marngrook have always said it belongs on NITV.
“I’ve got to go through the throes of producer-world to see what we can come up with but we’ll hopefully know one way or the other very soon.
NITV already screens Barefoot Sports but Denning says they differ in their approach to grass roots and big league football. Her biggest challenge is scheduling the show so it isn’t against other AFL programming.
In a year that has seen The Sapphires, Mabo and Redfern Now it seems apt to finish 2012 with a new Indigenous channel. Denning says while the focus is on Aboriginal / Torres Strait Islanders, the channel is for all Australians to “experience who we are and the different aspects of our lives.”
“We’re only skimming the surface even though it’s been years of making it,” she says.
“I’m so excited to see what it’s going to be like in 5 years or 10 years.”
NITV will be available free-to-air from 12pm on 12 December 2012 on channel 34 and Foxtel channel 180.
The special launch day broadcast will also be streamed live online on sbs.com/nitv.