The ABC today released its 72-page 2020-2022 content plan, essentially a restatement of its core values and goals which also stresses the need to engage with new and younger audiences.
The broadcaster lists its priorities over the next three years as being relevant to all Australians; delivering distinctive, public benefit content that engages mass audiences, builds national conversations and creates meaningful change; increasing the diversity of content and the people making it; and to push boundaries and take risks.
Typifying the spirit of the content plan, Sally Riley, head of drama, comedy and Indigenous, says: “In all our content we first and foremost want to entertain and surprise audiences, but it’s really important to me and my team that we engage them emotionally – that’s how you change hearts and minds. We are constantly looking for ways to defy expectations of our content and the ABC”.
The in-house Content Ideas Lab will focus on growing Australian audiences currently under-served by the ABC, such as 18–40 year-olds, women, outer metropolitan audiences and diverse audiences encompassing culture, disability, gender and sexuality.
Observing that 75 per cent of Australians watch Netflix and other on-demand platforms each week, the broadcaster says: “To allow people to find and engage with our content we’ll need an increased focus on building content relationships and brands.”
The report notes the country’s increasingly diverse population with 26 per cent of Australians (6 million people) born overseas. Some 21 per cent speak a language other than English at home (most commonly Mandarin) and 2.8 per cent identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
“We have to form new relationships with people who haven’t traditionally grown up with the ABC,” it says, while seeking ways to be more relevant to older teenagers and young adults aged 18-29.
In parallel with the sharp drop in viewing linear channels, ABC TV’s weekly reach has fallen from 54 per cent of Australians in 2016 to 46 per cent.
The average household now has an average of 17 digital devices, up 25 per cent from two years ago, while 31 per cent of Australians access the ABC via its apps and websites.
Hinting at a re-balancing of investment from linear to digital, the broadcaster says it will explore new ways to tell and share stories made possible by its audience’s embrace of new technology.
In factual entertainment, the ABC intends to build a broad slate that balances, in its jargon, ‘brand defining returners,’ ‘spiky new reach drivers’ and ‘public service culturally significant, Charter-based productions.’
That will entail ensuring there is enough content to sustain habitual appointment viewing occasions across weeks and seasons on broadcast and building returnable on-demand destinations.
Producers will be glad to know the broadcaster aims to strengthen the production sector by encouraging and supporting creative talent and bold storytellers from around the country.
Shaun Micallef’s On the Sauce.
Among the 2020 shows in that genre it highlighted are Northern Pictures and DMA Creative’s Big Weather (And How to Survive It), Lune Media’s Fight for Planet A: The Climate Challenge and CJZ’s Reputation Rehab and Shaun Micallef’s On the Sauce .
Josie Mason-Campbell, head of factual and entertainment, says: “Our aim is the same whether we are creating Gruen, Anh Do’s Brush with Fame, Restoration Australia, Mad as Hell or Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds: to deliver ‘TV with purpose’ that strengthens our connection to the audiences we serve.”
In drama, comedy and Indigenous the aims are to build a slate that balances known ‘broad returners’ and bold, calculated risks and to experiment with genre, narrative and form to find new audiences and non-traditional distribution.
Another goal is to achieve a balanced mix of drama types encompassing crime, procedural, genre, relationship and uniquely Australian.
Key titles for 2020 include Stateless, Matchbox Pictures and Dirty Films’ drama set in a remote detention centre for asylum seekers; Blackfella Films’ Dark Emu, in which author Bruce Pascoe presents a very different history of the nation and the First Australians; and the second season of Matchbox/For Pete’s Sake Productions’ The Heights.
Dark Emu’s Bruce Pascoe.
The children’s unit led by Libbie Doherty will continue to make premium comedy and drama content with a distinctively Australian point of view to “speak directly to Australian kids and global audiences who are fascinated with our big-hearted characters and epic locations.”
It will also experiment with new formats and approaches to content development. Next year’s slate includes Flying Kite Pictures and Sticky Pictures’ Are You Tougher Than Your Ancestors?, Flying Bark Productions’ 100% Wolf and series 3 of Matchbox Pictures’ Mustangs FC.
Doherty says: “ABC Children’s programs are the cultural touchpoints that shape our children’s sense of themselves and what it means to be Australian.
“Wherever they end up in life, they can draw on the collective memories of Play School or Bluey to connect with others and their country. Instilling kids with a lifelong love of Australian culture and the arts is the beating heart of everything we do.”
In specialist, the creative team vows to take more risks with content and explore new topics (“To stand out and be noticed, we need to be noisier in our offer”) and to develop new stakeholder relationships and partnerships.
Miranda Culley, executive producer, arts, asks rhetorically: “How did Utzon come up with the ‘idea’ of the Opera House? How did he pull it off? What was it about Michael Hutchence and his music that we all felt so immediately and deeply? Art and the artistic process provokes and inspires me simply because it reminds me what is possible.”