ABC looks to broad TV… yes to Survivor, Masterchef & Gogglebox, no to MAFS.

ABC Chief Content Officer is open to broad hits in order for viewers to find other distinct content.


Newly-installed ABC Chief Content Officer Chris Oliver-Taylor wants the broadcaster to be relevant to all Australians and is open to formats which would fit its Charter and budgets, whilst attracting a broad audience.

“I think it’s really appropriate for the ABC to have an audience watching its shows. We know that with Vera, Utopia and Bay of Fires they come in millions of viewers and watch these shows. And I do think that our main ABC schedule really needs to be for all Australians and we need to get the balance right,” he told TV Tonight.

“Some shows are going to play to big audiences, big numbers and have a relevance for Australia. I want the ABC to be relevant. I want to make sure that people go ‘Yes, the ABC is really important,’ because it is. But also we make a whole number of shows where we bring in significant value back to the Australian people. And that might be in some of our slate like Arts where we’re not chasing a big number by any means. But we’re telling important stories. If we can get that balance, right, I think we’ve done really well.”

ABC has already enjoyed sucess with local adaptations of UK formats such as Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, Back in Time for Dinner and War on Waste, and the former Netflix exec is open to more.

“Not that we would do this, I should stress, but the BBC is running Gladiators in primetime now, which is an ITV (produced) show they’ve just picked up,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s a reason why the ABC couldn’t run shows like Survivor. Obviously Alone was a great success for SBS. There’s no reason why ABC, budget permitting, couldn’t have had MasterChef or Gogglebox. I think those shows really talk to Australians and they allow us to cast diverse and broad.

“I do think we’re allowed to have one or two tentpoles that can bring in a nice big audience, probably in the entertainment space, that allows that audience to find other things. We want people coming into ABC iview and onto our main channel. And we want them to discover Maggie Beer and discover Tony (Armstrong) and Miriam (Margolyes). Maybe one way into that is through a format that’s working very well internationally.

“But no, we would not do MAFS!”

ABC previously screend its own Gogglebox-like show Everyone’s A Critic, in 2018 where art gallery patrons critiqued art works but the show struggled to find an audience.

Last week ABC unveiled its 2024 slate with local dramas Return to Paradise, Ladies in Black, House of Gods, The Newsreader, Total Control, comedies Fisk, Austin, White Fever, the return of Shaun Micallef, factuals with Maggie Beer, Tony Armstrong and Miriam Margolyes and a doco series on 9 years of Liberals in power.

Having commenced in July Oliver-Taylor has inherited much of the new slate from his ABC predecessor, as have recent appointees, Rachel Okine as Head of Scripted, Rachel Millar as Head of Entertainment and Susie Jones as Head of Factual. It will be a 2025 slate to truly mark the new direction.

But he also has hopes to realise a greater uptake of iview and transition viewers to digital.

“We’ve got to make sure that our audience is gently, but appropriately, transferred across to ABC iview. We know they’re all on demand. I know that from Netflix. Everyone’s got Netflix, which means all our audience has figured out and the barriers to entry,” he continued.

“So we want to do it for ABC ivew as well. There’s no excuse now about saying, ‘Maybe our audience isn’t there.’ No, they are there. They’re watching The Crown on Netflix. We know they can watch Vera on ABC iview. That’s one of the visions I want to get to -transferring our audience from linear to on demand, like everyone is doing.

“That’s not unique, but we have to be quite deliberate. And then making sure that we’ve got stories that play big and have impact to Australia.”

Yet while ABC has a roaring success in Kids TV, led by superstar Bluey, there are no plans to broaden to a Young Adult audience.

“I am trying to be realistic. I don’t think that I really want to compete with our friends at Netflix for the Stranger Things audience. I just think that’s silly,” Oliver-Taylor insists.

“Can we realistically compete with the streamers who have very clearly pushed a YA agenda for good reason? Can we compete with Squid Game or Stranger Things? I don’t think so. Not with our budget, right? And will international distribution companies buy YA content to try and compete with those shows in the UK or in the US? Again, probably not.”

However he does want viewers to think differently about the public broadcaster.

“I want to make sure people say ‘The ABC is telling some important stories,. And they’re making me laugh.’

“Not ‘ABC doesn’t matter anymore.’ ABC really matters and dare I say, it matters more now than almost ever before.”

20 Responses

  1. Serious question… If Chris Oliver-Taylor is genuine* in his thinking that there’s no reason why the ABC couldn’t run shows like Survivor, Masterchef and GoggleBox, why not MAFS? If the the first three “really talk to Australians and they allow us to cast diverse and broad”, surely you could argue the same about MAFS. If the primary objective is to attract a broad audience, numbers are numbers right?

    * I don’t think he is genuine.
    It doesn’t take much to think of obvious reasons why these shows couldn’t live on the ABC:
    -Is the ABC really going to give away $500,000 of taxpayers money to the winner of Survivor (presumably SBS can give away prize money on Alone because it generates revenue from ads)?
    -Does he really think Masterchef could be made without the overt sponsorship and branding of Coles, Harvey Norman, Bulla Primo, Lee Kum Kee, Leggo’s etc.?

    1. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe he’s not being genuine in wanting to reshape the ABC’s programming lineup and its perception. Haven’t the ABC also announced their going to be making a production arm in a similar vein to BBC Studios? As long as the changes are made in a way that benefits the network and the audience, and it doesn’t just jump the shark with no way of returning to their roots, I reckon it’s a good idea to change things up.

      Maybe they don’t need to give $500k of taxpayers money to the winner of Survivor, but they could have people compete to win $100k for charity (the contestants aren’t there for the prize money anyway, they just want to be social media stars)? And MasterChef without Coles or The Block without Mitre 10 would make for some viewing worth watching, rather than a 90 minute commercial with more commercials in the middle.

  2. I remember in the late 60’s to mid 70,s the ABC had Evening shows like F-Troop, My Favorite Martian, The Ghost and Mrs Muir and etc., generally though just before the Mon-Thu showing of Doctor Who in the 25 mins an episode days. Of course they also supplemented that 6pm(ish) slot with The Goodies, Monty Python, Aunty Jack, Flash Nick from Jindavick (well for one season), then though they had 5:30pm things on as well Flashez (1976) that appealed to younger audiences (a magazine type music one could work).

    I do wonder though if a Curiosity Show, a Simon Townsend’s Wonder World or similar would work now as well on the ABC seeing it’s bare bones on commercial now, I’m guessing a Why is it So? (Professor Julius Sumner Miller), type one wouldn’t work, however I can see as I say a lighter Curiosity Show one working (with the right hosts).

      1. Good point.

        I’ve thought about it since reading the reply a couple of days (and watched a couple again on iView), basically I don’t see it as the same, however came to the conclusion that people who are my age now when I watched the Curiosity Show may see it in a similar way, difference of generations basically.

  3. It’s good to see someone with some different ideas come in and have a look at what they can do. Obviously we don’t want a stripped reality on the ABC but once a week on like a Sunday or Tuesday night for an hour sure, why not.

  4. Interesting to see him consider some (for lack of a better term) mainstream reality competition & entertainment shows for the ABC, but are ABC allowed to provide cash prizes on their shows?

    He cited Survivor as a potential ABC reality show (which is also running on the BBC in the UK), but would Survivor or similar programs work without a cash prize.

  5. If you’re going to repeat your mistakes….

    The ABC tried to play the commercials game in the late 70’s –
    move the news, buy up Gunsmoke, primetime Hollywood movies, Three’s Company (all potentially good things).

    And the whole thing exploded in their faces.

  6. I really disagree that the ABC can’t compete against Netflix in young adult shows…it just that more recently there’s been significantly less investment. Previously, they had successes like Dance Academy, Blue Water High, Nowhere Boys, twentysomething and Itch, there’s no reason why they can’t continue to produce those types of shows today again.

  7. I don’t disagree with 99% of Chris’ comments. However, having lived & worked in the UK in the early 2000s we watched a lot of BBC. To us, the BBC on air looked and sounded not unlike the Nine Network! A huge amount of prime time and even off-peak programming and promotions such as you’d find here on OZ commercial FTA TV. Compared to our ABC it looked and sounded and felt like commercial TV minus the ads. It doesn’t surprise me that they are now running Gladiators. Whilst they have a “charter/remit” that they have to adhere to (in all genres, & esp in news/caff), they are wholeheartedly in the ratings and celebrity game. They are expected to put mass bums on seats to justify the licence fees every home with a TV in Britain of over $AUD300 pays compulsorily per year. On that rationale, and with an ABC tax-payer funded to the tune of $1.2 billion per year (for the next 5 years) – I see no reason why the ABC shouldn’t consider programming like Gladiators!

  8. He appears to the missed the bit where Netflix is no longer looking for new subscribers but raising fees to start making a profit. Netflix viewing for the ABC’s audience of kids under 12 and pensioners has peaked, which is why the ABC will be important to them. Netflix is a replacement for premium cable not FTA now. The ABC has $1.1b to spend on whatever they want, unlike their competitors who are facing increased regulation and quotas to ensure they produce adequate circuses for inner city voters Albanese is losing.

  9. … “Everyone’s got Netflix”? really Chris? according to the ABC news department “Netflix’s subscription numbers have declined, falling 3 per cent as of June 2023” (6.1mil users) is that what ABC Content is aiming for?

    1. You’re acting like that’s not a significant number of *paying* subscribers. Of course it can’t compare to a free service. Not everyone can afford to pay for TV, but those figures show that people see a lot of value in Netflix content.

  10. A reboot of Countdown would be nice. There’s also room for AGT or a similar type of show on the ABC.

    The Checkout, while not necessarily a broad show, had a lot of wide appeal and was very popular (and hasn’t really been replaced) would be great to have back.

    One show that was a broad hit was Strictly Dancing that could be rebooted. Otherwise, a reboot of Good News Week or Taken Out would fit in well.

    1. Yep with Have You Been Paying Attention and The Cheap Seats doing generally well Good News Week could work again back on the ABC, The Big Gig is another but they tried that with The Sideshow back in 2007 and it didn’t quite work (I liked it). A light entertainment chat show could be good in the Style of Club Buggery perhaps, Roy and HG would likely work for older audiences but not younger now, hoping the ne Shaun Micallef show may be along that line (with added skits).

      I agree Strictly Dancing was good and Paul McDermott a great host on it and Good News Week and The Side Show…. whoops may be McDermott biased in my tastes here, hell have him and Shaun Micallef host everything be the Sonia Kruger and Dr Chris Brown of the ABC (if they want to be like a commercial channel) .

      1. I see The Weekly as a program produced in the same vein as HYBPA? and The Cheap Seats (though admittedly it’s closer to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver when I think about it a little more deeply).

Leave a Reply