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ABC3 Australia moves to fill first sked

After a false start prompted by a change in the country's federal government in 2007, Australian pubcaster ABC is well and away on December launch plans for new kids diginet ABC3. Armed with a US$57.7-million annual budget over each of the next three years, executive head of children's television Tim Brooke-Hunt and his newly assembled team are busy filling up the channel's 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. programming day with a slate of original and acquired series and blocks hosted by local talent.
October 1, 2009

After a false start prompted by a change in the country’s federal government in 2007, Australian pubcaster ABC is well and away on December launch plans for new kids diginet ABC3. Armed with a US$57.7-million annual budget over each of the next three years, executive head of children’s television Tim Brooke-Hunt and his newly assembled team are busy filling up the channel’s 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. programming day with a slate of original and acquired series and blocks hosted by local talent.

Brooke-Hunt is going wide both in demo and genre selection. The new digital channel is aiming to reach kids ages six to 15, with an eight to 12 sweetspot, by offering drama (on-air and online) and adventure, comedy, music, wildlife, news, sports and quiz shows.

‘The ABC has recognized for a long time the need for a channel of this sort,’ says Brooke-Hunt, who joined ABC in October 2007 and right away saw the need to split ABC’s digital kids content into one channel for preschoolers and another for school-age kids.

ABC3′s launch is set to coincide with the re-launch of ABCforKids, a dedicated preschool block on the broadcaster’s existing digital channel ABC2, which will expand its broadcast day to between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Terrestrial channel ABC1 will continue to air six hours of kids programming each day.

The new net is also boasting an online hub that’ll feature social networking, games, video, and user-generated content, with the TV experience being extended through, blogs and a range of entertaining and informative online activities starring ABC3 programs.

Brooke-Hunt says the looming 2013 digital switchover and the fact that 50% and 35% of households down under already have digital TV and pay-TV, respectively, caused the pubcaster to pick up the pace on putting strategic changes in place to stay competitive.

Audience growth has been huge for the ABC2 over the past 12 months, notes Brooke-Hunt. A typical audience figure for one of its programs has shot up from 25,000 to 100,000 viewers, thanks to the boom in digital subscribers.

‘I wouldn’t want to predict how quickly subscription TV is going to advance beyond the 35% of households that it currently has, but it’s very clear to us that all the evidence suggests that school-age kids respond very well to this more focused delivery approach,’ says Brooke-Hunt. ‘We could see that if we didn’t have a competitive offering against Nick, Disney and Cartoon Network, ultimately our school-age children would drift away,’ he says.

ABC3′s initial sked will derive at least 35% of its content from Australian-produced series. The goal is to bump that number up to a full 50% within three years, which Brooke-Hunt sees as a main point of difference for the channel. ‘We believe that, like the rest of the Australian audience, Australian kids love to see their faces on screen and watch Australian stories,’ he says.

July’s cross-country hunt for hosts for the new blocks on both ABC3 and ABC2 yielded more than 5,000 applications, and the winners will be revealed shortly after MIPCOM. Brooke-Hunt says the blocks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, will run for about an hour and a half. In addition, these hosts will make appearances throughout the schedule in slots.

In the meantime, the ABC has acquired more than 800 hours of children’s programming across all platforms since May, and Brooke-Hunt says he expects to bring in another 800 hours over the next six months. Recent pick-ups for ABC3 include Total Drama Island (Fresh TV/Cake Entertainment), Spliced (Nelvana), Connor Under Cover (Shaftesbury/Heroic), M.I. High (Kudos), Richard Hammond’s Blast Lab (September Films/Hamster’s Wheel), The Wannabes (Showcase Entertainment), Barney’s Barrier Reef (Darrall MacQueen), The Little Prince (Method) and Jungle Book (ZDF/Moonscoop/DQE).

Likewise, ABC2 has added RDF’s Waybuloo, Roary the Racing Car (Chapman Entertainment), the new CGI Angelina Ballerina (HIT Entertainment), Toby’s Toy Circus (Target Entertainment Group), Nanigugu (Ypsilon) and Igam Ogam (Calon).

Brooke-Hunt says license fees depend on factors such as whether the channel is acquiring analogue or digital rights, the degree of exclusivity or length of hold-back against pay-TV and the value of online materials delivered within the program.

‘Generally we pay licence fees for shows that we acquire on an exclusive basis that are accompanied by significant online elements,’ says Brooke-Hunt. ‘We also reserve our best slots and maximum exposure for shows to which we hold exclusive rights and which can work across all platforms.’

The programming mix will be fairly consistent, with animation taking up 66% of preschool outlet ABC2′s sked and roughly 33% of ABC3′s total air time. ‘We believe that as impressive as the American networks are, they don’t actually offer kids a very broad and rounded menu of program types or genres,’ says Brooke-Hunt. ‘Our strategy is to offer a very wide range that encompasses animation and drama, but also music shows, sports shows, news, current affairs and factual entertainment.’

As for original productions, the channel has three on the go right now. There’s an Aussie version of the YTV/CBBC reality series Prank Patrol (created by Canada’s Apartment 11 and produced in Melbourne by Active TV). Rush TV (produced in Sydney by Beyond Productions) profiles the music and artistic offshoots of the extreme sports world, and BTN Extra (from ABC TV’s News and Current Affairs team in Adelaide) offers a daily analysis of news and current affairs. When it comes to future acquisitions, Brooke-Hunt says ABC3 is in discussions with RDF and its Australian co-producer, Freehand, for series three and four of CBBC’s adventure series Scorpion Island. There are also two music shows in development, and Brooke-Hunt expects to commission at least one of them for production shortly.

Earlier this year, the ABC also brought on a number of other projects, including live-action comedy After School Care (a joint initiative between ABC3, Film Victoria and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation) and character-driven sitcom West Coast Kids (a joint project with Screen West and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation).

Looking ahead to 2011, Brooke-Hunt and his team are searching out entertaining documentary series for ABC3, as well as boy-led dramas and animated series. In terms of pitching, he prefers to review a couple of episodes of completed shows. For pre-buys he asks for a series bible and a few scripts to be sent to head of programming and acquisitions Barbara Uecker. More information for distributors and producers can be found at www.abc.net.au/tv/independent/childrens_about.htm.

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