ABC ramps up independent commissions in $30 million spending boost
The ABC expects to spend $119 million on commissioning content from independent producers in the 2017-18 financial year, a significant uplift from the prior year’s $95 million.
That accounts for the lion’s share of the broadcaster’s commitment to invest an extra $30 million on local content this fiscal year, the result of internal efficiencies.
However ABC director entertainment and specialist David Anderson rules out another increase of that scale because there is virtually no more scope for savings.
“Australian storytelling is central to our purpose and our strategic goal to be the source of Australian conversations, culture and stories,” he tells IF.
“Increasingly with so much international content there has never been a more important time to be investing in local content, voices and production.”
The additional $30 million is being allocated across the slate to arts, children’s, comedy, drama, documentary, entertainment and factual.
That will mean a 15 per cent increase in first-run drama and narrative comedy – from 40 hours and 20 hours respectively in 2016-17 to a total of 69 hours in 2017-18. That includes the new series of Rake, Jack Irish, Mystery Road the Series, Back in Very Small Business and Rosehaven.
Yet he emphasizes that most of those funds will cover the unavoidable rises in the costs of production rather than more hours of content.
After Federal Government budget cuts resulted in drops in spending on drama and children’s programming over the past three years, the broadcaster is upping its outlays on those genres as well as factual and documentaries.
The ABC invested $27 million in drama including Indigenous and $9 million on comedy, both including iview commissions, in 2016-17. In the current financial year the drama spend is projected to jump to $37 million.
Spending on children’s programming including cash and labour is expected to go up from $13.5 million last financial year to $18 million. There are also healthy rises for documentaries, from $9 million to $14 million, and factual, from $5.5 million to nearly $9 million.
Anderson reiterated the ABC’s opposition to calls on the government to impose local content quotas on the public broadcaster, stating, “You can end up with bad decisions as a result of hitting a quota.”
For the first time he has elaborated on the management and operational restructure which saw a cross-platform approach replace the long-entrenched divisions between TV, radio and online.
Formerly director of TV, his role has been expanded to include all four TV networks and on-demand services (excluding news and current affairs), the national radio networks and their websites and ABC Audio Services.
As ABC head of distribution, entertainment and specialist, Rebecca Heap is responsible for distribution of all TV and radio networks except local, iview, ABC Listen and third-party platforms.
“It’s a far more holistic view,” he explained. “For the first time we can see where our content is going out to which audiences and when. We can see trends on how content is being consumed and adjust accordingly to make sure we provide the best possible audience experience.”
The content team leaders include head of drama, comedy and Indigenous Sally Riley, head of specialist Judith Whelan, head of entertainment and factual Josie Mason-Campbell, head of music Chris Scaddan and head of children’s Michael Carrington.