Astro Boy blasts off a new action block at ABC Australia

Australia's leading kids broadcaster is getting a bit adventurous for 2004, taking on more action-packed fare in an attempt to make the channel a hot spot for tween boys.
December 1, 2003

Australia’s leading kids broadcaster is getting a bit adventurous for 2004, taking on more action-packed fare in an attempt to make the channel a hot spot for tween boys.

For the past year ABC has seen its share of the five-to-12 audience increase by 33.4% in the mornings and 4.8% in the afternoons, helped by shows like Out There (ABC/BBC) and Girlstuff/Boystuff (Decode), which appeal to boys as well as girls. Next year, the net plans to build on the gains it’s made with boys by introducing a ‘boyzone’ that offers some action and sci-fi programming, says kids programmer Deirdre Brennan.

In October, the net launched The Adventures of Tin Tin, which airs on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. and has swiftly become the most-watched program in the ABC Kids schedule by boys up to age 15. In April, the show will provide a lead-in for Sony’s Astro Boy (25 x 30 minutes), and more action/adventure shows might join the lineup in the second half of the year provided the time slot performs well. Brennan says she is currently in discussions to acquire a couple of similar series.

While Brennan says she would like to brand the block and create promos and packaging in conjunction with Astro Boy’s launch, recent cutbacks at ABC may mean there’s not enough money in the promo pot.

As a public broadcaster, ABC has to be very aware of what parents think, which means programs that subscribe to the you-can-never-have-too-many-explosions rule of thumb are not at the top of Brennan’s list. New acquisitions will likely play closer to the adventure end of the action scale. ‘I have noticed that there seems to be more of this type of material coming through,’ says Brennan. ‘Programs such as Dragon Booster from Alliance Atlantis show enormous potential, offering broadcasters a new approach to action programming.’ Dragon Booster is a futuristic racing show where dragons are used as state-of-the-art, high-speed vehicles.

Other time slots will also see a return to boy-friendly fare early next year, with the launches of Seriously Weird (Granada, 26 x 30 minutes), a live-action comedy featuring a 15-year-old boy plagued by bizarre events; and Pigeon Boy (Millimages, 26 x 30 minutes), about a superhero with more similarities to Charlie Chaplin than Superman.

With at least 32 weekly hours of kid-targeted programming in its sked, ABC averages a whopping 51.3% share of kids ages five to 12 between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., and 73.8% of the same group between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. In 2002, ABC TV’s daytime programs, including ABC Kids, had an average weekly reach of more than 8.5 million people. By comparison, cable channels like Nick-elodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network, though competitive in their programming, have only penetrated about 25% of Australian homes, with an average reach of 1.5 million.

Building a bridge between production and L&M

ABC Australia has tapped former ABC TV executive producer Paul Clarke to oversee production on new series to maximize their ancilliary revenue potential in key categories like video/DVD and consumer products. Clarke, who was a series consultant on Lights, Camera, Action, Wiggles!, will work on both in-house projects and domestic and international co-productions as consumer publishing executive producer. His first kids gig is a 13 x five-minute spin-off of Gardening Australia for seven- to 12-year-olds, followed by a series of shorts called AK Kids (26 x five minutes) that encourages preschoolers to be active. Both series will be ready to air in 2004 if they are picked up by ABC Kids.

Further down the line, Clarke will serve as executive producer on a major new series aimed at girls seven to 12 that’s budgeted up to US$3.5 million. ABC is looking for domestic and international partners to get involved, and the concept should have broad on- and off-screen ancillary applications.

On the educational side, Clarke is looking at commissioning two educational videos from indie producers that will be distributed to schools and may find their way to broadcast.

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