ABC2, the Australian Broadcast Company’s fledgling free-to-air digital channel, is looking to expand its reach with an emphasis on children’s programming in the coming year.
Launched in March 2006, the commercial-free 24/7 channel is one of two free-to-air digital channels on the continent along with SBS World News Channel. Approximately 1.74 million households receive the signal. By comparison, two million households subscribe to commercial cable that includes Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. While the cable kidnets are the main competition for ABC2, its free-to-air distribution gives it a bit of a leg up, and is bolstered by the fact that it’s also carried as a free channel on pay-TV providers Foxtel and Austar.
Lynley Marshall, director of ABC new media & digital services, says ABC2 was designed to complement ABC’s existing analogue television channel with a mandate to offer a mix of content culled from arts, lifestyle, international and regional news programming. Although the top brass wants to keep the channel diversified, Marshall believes tapping into its parent net’s well-established children’s entertainment brand will give the new outlet an advantage when it comes to delivering children’s content.
‘Children’s programming makes up a significant portion of the ABC2 schedule,’ she says. ‘Complementary scheduling on ABC2 ensures that the ABC’s two television services can now offer up to 13 hours of continuous, safe and trusted content every weekday.’
As part of this strategy, the channel has a slate of VOD kids and tween programming. Interactive Good Game, a weekly half-hour program that features the latest gaming news, reviews and tips, and weekly half-hour digtv that features a variety of music content and news are designed to involve tweens directly. Both are also supported by an on-line presence which hosts podcasts, forums and VOD content.
In addition to VOD, the net provides five hours of preschool programming each day such as Ragdoll/BBC Worldwide’s Teletubbies and ABC’s Play School as well as new productions Boblins (Inspire GLG) and Fluffy Gardens (Monster Animation).
For the tween demo the net offers a weekday-evening block from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. branded under ABC’s Rollercoaster banner. CGI series The New Captain (Gerry Anderson Productions), and 2-D comedy/adventure Delilah & Julius (Decode Entertainment) are on-air, while live-actioner Degrassi Junior High and New Zealand import P.E.T. Detectives are slated to bow in 2007.
Quantifying ratings for the free-to-air service is a tricky proposition. However, Marshall points to research that shows ABC2′s pulled in approximately 225,000 viewers daily June through September, scoring an 18% increase over the previous three month period. The gains were even more impressive with younger viewers . The net scored at 23% bump in the 12 and under demo, and a 36% increase in the 13 to 24 bracket in that same time period.
Marshall says she would like to keep momentum going in a number of ways, including introducing hosted blocks to further develop ABC2′s personality and character.
Again taking a cue from ABC proper, the net plans to bolster its interactive offerings with ‘choose the shows’ or ‘choose the episode’ programming stunts, and will adopt Rollercoaster’s showcase of UGC for launch on ABC2 next year. Dubbed Rollercoaster iTV, the series will target 10- to13-year-olds and will allow viewers to customize their computer screens, add sound and visual effects to the program, and participate in a number of votes and interactive competition.
Marshall’s also on the lookout for more original productions, particularly those from Australia. ‘In the future, we hope to achieve this by developing co-productions with other Australian agencies and the independent film and TV production sectors, as well as via pre-sales.’ She adds the net is interested in exploring co-pro and presale partnerships with international producers. In the meantime, Marshall has a lot of shopping to do. Look for the net to purchase upwards of 350 hours of content to fill its Rollercoaster and preschool blocks in the next year.