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After the cutbacks

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a dual task. The pubcaster needs to combat programming budget shortfalls caused by funding cutbacks, and keep the channel relevant for kids ages 10 and up as they grow beyond being entertained by fruit in pyjamas....
November 1, 1999

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a dual task. The pubcaster needs to combat programming budget shortfalls caused by funding cutbacks, and keep the channel relevant for kids ages 10 and up as they grow beyond being entertained by fruit in pyjamas.

The solution lay in finding some creative financing models to offset the US$43 million in cutbacks ABC has endured over the last four years-and to inject the sked with tween and teen appeal at the same time.

ABC already has the lion’s share of the preschool market, with over 2,000 hours of programming scheduled per year. The programming hurdle has been to address the 10- to 16-year-old market, which often drifts to soap operas on the commercial channels.

The ABC’s answer this year was to schedule George and Martha at 4:30 p.m. on weekdays to satisfy a broad demographic and to add MTV’s animated series Daria to its 5:30 p.m. weekday slot. After a great launch earlier this year, ABC has purchased an additional 13 episodes featuring the acerbic teen. ‘My goal is to find more shows of this ilk to furnish that appetite when Daria ends,’ says associate children’s programmer Virginia Lumsden.

Trying to be creative in the face of shrinking budgets, ABC’s commissioning editor for children’s television, Claire Henderson, initiated a broadcaster co-production. ABC and BBC TV split the costs of a six-part half-hour series aimed at the older kid audience called See How They Run. Based on a book by David McRobbie set in both Australia and the U.K., the series has already run once and ABC is currently talking with the BBC about further episodes.

ABC is also planning to produce an in-house behind-the-scenes look at the making of a kid’s show. The drama series ‘will be low-budget and probably shot on video because the material lends itself to that,’ says Henderson.

The public broadcaster will continue to co-produce with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and Yoram Gross because these companies can access film funds.

However, they are less likely to do one-off specials because they ‘are unlikely to register on our schedule,’ says Henderson.

Although ABC shows such as Bananas in Pyjamas have generated a lot of money through licensing division ABC Enterprises, Henderson says she doesn’t pick projects because they may offer great ancillary spin-offs. ‘Our department is totally isolated from [the licensing division],’ she says. ‘There is a firewall between us.’

Still, while the US$5.3-million production budget at ABC Children’s isn’t dependent on how its properties fare in the merchandising arena, the division does benefit from ABC Enterprises. Profits skimmed from the roughly US$42 million in revenues generated by the merch arm go back to the ABC board to be doled out to all departments, including children’s.

With tight budgets and increased competition from cable nets and commercial stations such as Australia’s Nine Network (commercial nets Seven, Nine and Ten must all produce original kids shows-a minimum of 30 hours annually, and cable and satellite kid channels must also invest in indigenous production), ABC’s ancillary products continue to be its ace in the hole.

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