2020 outlook: The ABC’s Michael Carrington
The ABC intends to ramp up digital-first content as well as reaching new audiences, including those who rarely if ever watch broadcast television.
“We look for content that works across multiple platforms to appeal to a multitude of people, from traditional broadcast audiences to viewers who have never seen a TV schedule,” Michael Carrington, ABC director of entertainment and specialist, tells IF.
“Great content is great content, no matter how people watch it. Programs like Total Control and Killing Eve have attracted younger audiences on iview in addition to strong results on linear. So we are not just talking about increasing the volume of digital-first content but how we can better curate content between our platforms.
“Saying that, we need to meet the growing expectation of audiences for high-quality content on demand. That will mean a greater focus on enhancing our content and technology for digital audiences, from regular content binges and box sets to personalisation of online services such as iview.”
The ABC’s 2020-2022 content plan unveiled in December identified as a key priority attracting new and younger viewers including teens, young adults, outer metropolitan audiences and diverse audiences encompassing culture, disability, gender and sexuality.
Innovative shows such as vertical-viewing series Content, Superwog, The Heights, Love on the Spectrum and You Can’t Ask That have drawn new and diverse audiences, Carrington says.
This year’s slate reflects the ABC’s ambition to look and sound like contemporary Australia. Carrington expects shows such as DMA Creative and Northern Pictures’ climate change documentary Big Weather (and how to survive it) and Blackfella Films’ Dark Emu, in which Bruce Pascoe provides a fresh perspective on Indigenous history, directed by Erica Glynn, will spark national conversations.
The drama line-up includes Stateless, a six-parter directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse about four strangers in an immigration detention centre produced by Matchbox Pictures and Dirty Films; and Porchlight Films’ Buffalo (formerly Fallout), an espionage thriller set during the British nuclear tests in South Australia from writer-director Peter Duncan, starring Ewen Leslie, Jessica de Gouw and James Cromwell.
CKOL’s six-part comedy Why Are You Like This is a spin-off of the Fresh Blood pilot created and written by Naomi Higgins, Humyara Mahbub and Mark Samual Bonanno, which follows best friends Mia (Olivia Junkeer) and Penny (Higgins) as they navigate their 20s in Melbourne, along with Penny’s dramatic and aloof housemate Austin (Wil King).
As IF reported, the ABC is funding the development of second series of Blackfella Films’ Total Control, Roadshow Rough Diamond’s Les Norton and Merman Television/Guesswork Television’s Frayed.
Carrington says of all three: “I would love to bring them back for our audiences. The development process takes time and we will be making more announcements on our upcoming content.”
The content plan revealed the the ABC’s weekly reach has fallen from 54 per cent of Australians in 2016 to 46 per cent, in line with an overall decline in viewing of linear networks.
Carrington contends younger viewers are still engaging in content but in different ways. For example, Superwog and Triple J’s Like A Version with Denzel Curry are attracting many millions of views on YouTube, particularly among younger people.
Ludo Studios’ Bluey is reaching vast audiences across multiple platforms and devices and the final episode of Get Krack!n went viral on social media.
There is no indication yet of any cuts in commissioning or staff numbers as the ABC is forced to find annual savings of more than $40 million per year from 2021-2022 as a result of the government-imposed budget reduction of $83.7 million over three years.
An ABC spokesman tells IF: “To date, we have found some savings, particularly through third-party contract renegotiations. We continue to take a methodical approach to identifying the savings firstly through third-party negotiations and greater internal efficiencies, but it is likely that in finding these savings, there will be an effect on jobs and content.
“Like all media organisations we also have to address the rising cost of content production and the need to maintain broadcast technologies while also investing in personalised digital services.
“As commercial media contract from regional news services and look to decrease investment in screen content, especially children’s content, there is also greater pressure on the ABC to fill these gaps.”