Hello advertorials, this is Australian Drama calling.

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Amongst a growing list of issues to be concerned about, one that recently stuck with me was the ratings for Redfern Now: The Telemovie.

Surely there is something broken if a Telstra advertorial, fronted by Dave Hughes on Seven, outrates locally produced drama on the ABC?

Hello: This is Australia drew 503,000 viewers at 8pm on Thursday April 9 against Redfern Now: The Telemovie‘s 454,000 at 8:30pm. Admittedly the latter’s average is across a 90 minute broadcast, but with a cast headed by Deborah Mailman it’s a glum comparison.

At the time I raised this with ABC, who understandably noted they are more concerned with combined metro & regional numbers, and iview numbers as an indication of its spread.

After Timeshifted numbers came in, the Telstra special still won by 3,000 metro viewers, at 533,000 to 530,000.

Hello: This is Australia is at least the fourth recent advertorial given a primetime slot by Seven (others included a Royal Caribbean cruise, Target fashion and McDonalds). As Media Watch pointed out last night, ACMA has no rules that restrict it from selling an hour of primetime coverage to a client. The Easter non-ratings period was deemed suitable in Seven’s view, despite it having one of two datacasting channels active where it flogs everything from Slimming Leggings to Pilates and American TV pastors.

A Seven spokesperson told TV Tonight shows such as Hello: This is Australia had been designed with broadcast television in mind, not datacasting. Or should that be ‘sold with broadcast television in mind?’

In a statement it said cruise ship Voyager of the Sea, seen recently in the hour-long Tom, Rachel and Rosso Go Cruising, had also featured on Seven, Nine, TEN news in Sydney and Brisbane, plus ABC and Nine News in Darwin and the Today show.

“The programme complied with the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice. Royal Caribbean’s involvement was clearly identified in the credits,” they said.

“Four infomercials were broadcast on The Morning Show over a period of several months and were clearly identified as such for The Morning Show.

“As you can understand all of our client relationships are commercially confidential.”

If it’s Easter it must be time for branded content

Redfern Now‘s ratings were down on its season average, but as a one-off it lacked the awareness that benefits a weekly timeslot. Played in isolation during a non-ratings week would always be a challenge.

Perhaps the audience was just not drawn to its heavy topic of rape, no matter how strong the cast, and how ‘worthy’ its issues. As Gallipoli ratings remind us, audiences need a reason to tune in other than feeling some kind of moral duty.

But what is the outlook for Australian drama if more people will watch a paid advertorial over locally scripted and locally acted drama?

TV Tonight put that question to Screen Producers Australia -who declined to comment, presumably because they have members who make a living out of branded content as well as scripted drama. Disappointing.

Seven spends more on Australian drama than any other broadcaster, so perhaps I am being unfair. But somehow I doubt they are going to give over an hour of equal primetime to give awareness to the Aboriginal Women’s Sexual Assault Network or The Canberra Rape Crisis Centre. Would Hughesy or Tom, Rachel and Rosso front specials for their cause?

Last word on this goes to the Gogglebox families, who recently viewed Seven’s cruising special with disdain.

What is this show?
What the shit is this?
This is basically a paid commercial isn’t it?
Yeah this is an infomercial.
This is just cash for comment city.

I guess there is hope, after all.

11 Comments:

  1. I watched Hello Australia…and sure there was a few references to Telstra…but I found this much less offensive than the Block which has so many people where shirts with large logos that you can’t miss….I find that more annoying.

  2. That feeling why I dislike channel 7. All the FTA channels do it to some regard, but I say 7 are the ones that most take their audiences for granted. Just because they are the top rating channel, they believe they believe they can serve up any old crap and it will rate well. And the ratings tell us most people can’t tell the difference otherwise the branded content wouldn’t work

    • Well, as David points out above, even the folks on Gogglebox recognised the obviously branded content for what it is.

      On the other hand, other comments on this blog should be all the evidence you need that some people will watch absolutely anything provided it’s on “their” station…

  3. It’s terrible that people will watch an ad toroidal rather than an Aussie drama, but our drama needs to catch up. People are rushing to overseas product, especially via cable and streaming because it’s more innovative. Our drama isn’t. It’s simple. And ‘serious’ subject matter doesn’t necessarily have to be turgid or angsty. Decision makers need to take more risks and have faith in creatives rather than jettison ideas because they don’t fit in to their narrow experiences of the world.

  4. Overnight numbers for dramas are dropping. Secondary channels, timeshifting, catch-ups, increases in Foxtel subscriptions and streaming (which is still growing rapidly) are all causes.

    The more people skip ad breaks, or ignore them while using their phones and tablets, the more product placements and advertorials we will get in shows. This was common before the 70s. Soap Opera’s were named because they were soap powder ads, Graham Kennedy’s show was full of advertorial sketches.

    It’s greatest with viewers under <50. But the ABC was unable to get an audience for Poldark. Either young viewers interested in the new sexy version, or older viewers checking out the remake of an old hit.

  5. I agree this is an odd comparison – 7 and the commercial networks almost always out rate ABC.

    Agree also, that scheduling on a baron stand alone Thursday is odd. If it’s flagship drama – it belongs Sunday 8.30

  6. This is a very odd comparison. The Redfern Now series also had a very small audience for series 1 and even smaller audience for series 2. Had it not been for the subject matter and the fact it was a series made and produced by predominantly indigenous film makers it would not have been renewed for a second series or been followed by the telemovie. There is nothing wrong with small numbers with important material and this reflects the ABC charter. However other Australian dramas can clearly find audiences and have done so across the free to air networks. They are still very important to free to air networks in locking down schedules over many weeks and Seven has been the best at it for decades now. In this light branded entertainment is irrelevant.

  7. Thanks for raising these complex issues – for those of us who are committed to excellence in Australian drama – as producers or consumers, times are challenging. One of the biggest conundrums facing ABC drama is its failure to connect with the under 60s – this problem needs serious interrogation and urgent remedial action. I watched the Redfern Now telemovie – buried as it was on a Thursday night during Easter school holidays. It was generally excellent, but I question the decision not to show us the jury handing down their verdict. Bizarre. Did the Network EP sign off on this decision? Telemovies belong on a Sunday – the ABC needs to have the courage of their convictions when they commission something, set their own agenda and stop chasing ratings as if it matters – in the age of audience fragmentation and decline there is no point. The only thing that matters for the ABC is to be…

  8. Your comments apply equally to Australian movies, which fail at the box office when they are about melodramatic subjects like addiction, child abuse, suicide, domestic violence, Aboriginal dysfunction, etc.

    Maybe we just don’t like reality. Or maybe everyone was too busy glued to Game of Thrones.

    In answer to your question – But what is the outlook for Australian drama if more people will watch a paid advertorial over locally scripted and locally acted drama? The answer seems obvious – make something people want to watch. Something with great characters, great plot, great dialogue, subtext, nuance, depth, humour, wit, and drama instead of melodrama. In other words, not what we’re currently doing.

    PS. I still maintain the trailer for Redfern Now was the worst trailer ever put out by the ABC. And that includes trailers which try to make Please Like Me look like a laugh-a-thon.

    • Yes, the promo totally put me off Redfern Now. I certainly don’t want to come home from a long day at work and sit down in front of the TV to watch depressing melodrama with people arguing, shouting and crying. I get enough of that at work! I’m at the point now where I automatically turn off Aussie drama because I just know that it will only cover a narrow band of the almost infinite range of human emotions.

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