Drama and children’s programming remain the focus for a new look ABC in 2021 as the broadcaster aims for greater fluidity between its platforms, according to director of entertainment and specialist Michael Carrington.
Like many of its neighbours in the free-to-air space, the ABC has altered its model in the past 12 months to better navigate a post-pandemic landscape.
This has included the introduction of ABC TV Plus as a replacement for ABC Comedy, as well as the launch of the Fresh Start Fund, $5 million of development money that aims to assist the independent production through COVID.
There have also been consolidation measures, such as $5 million in cuts to the commissioning of independent production, a move likely to impact the factual slate in the short-term.
Speaking about the year ahead, Carrington tells IF the success of shows such as political drama Total Control, as well as children’s programs Bluey and Kangaroo Beach indicate where the broadcaster’s future lies in terms of development.
“There is an insatiable desire for drama and fortunately we are in a strong position on that front,” he says.
“To bring drama to ABC audiences, whether it be iview or on TV channels, is something we will be focused on.
“Children’s TV is also a powerhouse, especially our pre-school department.”
Arts programming is also set for greater prominence within schedule as part of ABC TV Plus.
The new channel will broadcast feature documentaries, as well as a weekly arts program, which is scheduled to premiere soon after Easter.
Carrington says the channel will provide a greater flow between ABC TV and ABC iview, while remaining a home for comedy.
“Australians love comedy and comedy does well, so we continue to bring it to the second channel,” he says.
“It also gives us an opportunity to better inform audiences about ABC iview.
“The second channel will be able to introduce audiences to new kinds of programming and flow them to ABC iview.
“ABC iview is the key for our future and is part of the ABC’s five-year plan, so there is a big effort going in to enriching the content on view.”
The year ahead also carries the potential for regulatory change, as posed in the Federal Government’s ‘Modernising television regulation in Australia’ green paper.
Under the policies outlined in the paper, for which the government is seeking industry submissions, ABC and SBS’s broadcasting acts would be amended in order to impose an explicit obligation to provide new Australian programming.
While he admits it is “difficult to say” what the impact of the reforms would be, Carrington says the ABC’s focus will remain the same.
“The idea that we are supporting the Australian industry and connecting with Australian audiences through Australian stories is something we will continue to emphasise.”
The broadcaster’s 2021 line-up, announced at November’s upfronts, includes new dramas Fires and The Newsreader, new comedies Fisk and Preppers, as well as the return of Total Control, Frayed, Jack Irish, Harrow and Superwog.
At the time, Carrington said there was the potential for the ABC to announce new commissions during 2021, such as those backed via the Fresh Start Fund.
He says the feedback from producers has shown the initiative has helped new ideas to flourish.
“Some of (the producers) have been able to progress on scripting, setting up their productions, and connecting with new writers,” he said
“I’m also responsible for our music stations in Triple J, Double J and Classic – and they’ve had a really great response.
“We’re already hearing new music ideas come through from performers we haven’t previously heard from.
“This year we will begin to roll out some of that content and it will speak for itself.”