ABC director of entertainment and specialist Michael Carrington.

Creatives eyeing the ABC as a home for their project in 2022 should make sure their idea not only stands out but also carries a degree of relevance, director of entertainment and specialist Michael Carrington says.

As the broadcaster celebrates its 90th anniversary year, the Australian television landscape has seldom been more competitive.

For its part, the ABC announced a slate heavy on local drama and children’s television at the end of last year, offering respite for production companies that had witnessed a shift in the priorities of other free-to-air networks amid the relaxation of content quotas.

Its continued role in supporting Australian drama was confirmed by Screen Australia’s Drama report, released in December, which found the ABC made the largest contribution to Australian drama production of any a single broadcaster or SVOD platform, investing $43 million across 17 titles.

Going forward, Carrington had a clear message to those aiming to pitch to the broadcaster.

“From drama to children’s to entertainment—surprise us,” he said.

“ABC commissioners are desperate to be surprised, they don’t want an iteration or variation on an existing idea.

“Some of the ABC’s breakout hits of 2021 like Frayed, Hardball, and The Newsreader typified this concept.”

Anna Torv and Sam Reid in ‘The Newsreader’.

He added that producers of factual content should think about scale, innovation, and how to play with form to deliver something original.

“Ensure program concepts have a strong thesis that is interrogated over the arc of the documentary/series,” he said.

“Every show we commission must convincingly answer the question ‘Why now?'” 

The Newsreader, in particular, was given a rousing reception from both audiences and the industry when it screened last year, going on to win five AACTAs.

The Werner Films production took a step back in time, not only through its subject matter but also in its weekly release format, which stands in opposition to the binge-viewing culture that has become synonymous with streaming services.

Carrington said the question of how best to engage with an audience was becoming more pronounced for creators and commissioners due to the rapidly changing environment.

“Who audiences choose to spend their precious time with will be largely determined by how they engage with content,” he said.

“This could be through the next breakout hit such as Squid Game, or through a re-evaluation of distribution practices, such as the move back to week-to-week releases in shows like The Newsreader, Succession, and Mare of East Town, to create shared audience moments.”

Of the other trends that could shape production in 2022, Carrington said it worth noting that the audiences were “weary from a global pandemic and craving positivity”.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand for deep, heartfelt content such as Love on the Spectrum and Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds,” he said.

“There is also a trend where natural history proposals are focused on teaching us something new about human/animal interaction – think Quoll Farm and My Octopus Teacher.

“The re-examining of the treatment of women in media and politics, such as Framing Britany Spears, Strong Female Lead, and Ms Represented, will continue to resonate with audiences.”

‘Ms Represented’.

While there is no questioning the appetite for content throughout the pandemic, producing it continues to be an ongoing challenge for creative teams faced with ever-changing restrictions.

In the past 12 months, ABC programs were among those forced to change their format, with Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell filmed without a studio audience, while Gruen filmed with presenters in both Melbourne and Sydney.

With Omicron presenting another immediate threat to production continuity, Carrington said the industry could take confidence from what it had been able to achieve in the past 12 months.

“The key lesson is adaptability,” he said.

“It’s a lesson the industry not only learnt, but put beautifully into practice in 2021. 

“We have a robust, highly skilled, passionate, and capable workforce who can absolutely compete on the world stage.

“We are more resilient than we think but creating content in a pandemic is a new layer of stress so we need to look after our mental health and work through the challenges together.”

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