Rise and rise of ABC

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide - DAR­REN DEVLYN

COM­MER­CIAL net­works are blind­ing us with end-ofyear-spin on their al­leged rat­ings and pro­gram­ming suc­cess and pump­ing up their prospects for 2009.

The ABC, mean­while, has not only recorded the big­gest over­all lift in au­di­ence share of all sta­tions this year, the pub­lic broad­caster has an­nounced a raft of 2009 pro­grams cer­tain to de­liver audiences the com­mer­cial net­works would kill for.

An­drew Den­ton has quit chat show Enough Rope, but is the brains be­hind one of the ABC’s most imag­i­na­tive, al­beit high-risk, con­cepts for next year.

Den­ton is pro­duc­ing Project NEXT, a cut­ting-edge re­al­ity show that sets out to dis­cover the next gen­er­a­tion of Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion tal­ent.

‘‘It’s dar­ing and risky, but that’s An­drew Den­ton,’’ ABC di­rec­tor of tele­vi­sion Kim Dal­ton says.

‘‘They (Den­ton and other ABC tal­ent) come to the ta­ble with in­tel­li­gence, creative risk-tak­ing and rel­e­vance. Some­times when you get all those el­e­ments, that will bring you a big au­di­ence.’’

Also com­ing our way is Prison Sings, boast­ing the tal­ents and pas­sion of Jonathon Welch — the face of ABC rat­ings hit The Choir of Hard Knocks and a judge on Chan­nel 7’s Bat­tle of the Choirs.

Welch’s new show aims to cre­ate a choir from a group of fe­male pris­on­ers, the aim be­ing to help the pris­on­ers pre­pare for life on the out­side.

‘‘Jonathon (and a pro­ducer) came to us with this idea about the power singing has to be trans­for­ma­tive . . . it’s got huge risks, but we leapt at it,’’ Dal­ton says.

The ABC has also signed renowned trou­ble-maker John Safran for Race Re­la­tions. The pro­gram de­scrip­tion prom­ises no topic will be too hot, no coun­try too danger­ous, for Safran’s glo­be­trot­ting ad­ven­ture.

The broad­caster will de­liver sec­ond sea­sons of Bed of Roses, East of Ev­ery­thing, The Gruen Trans­fer and The Li­brar­i­ans.

The ABC will also screen min­ing in­dus­try drama Dirt Game, star­ring Joel Edger­ton, and The Cut, a John Wood se­ries set in a sports-man­age­ment busi­ness.

On the 2009 agenda are a string of chil­dren’s shows, doc­u­men­tary se­ries and spe­cials in­clud­ing Pen­guin Is­land (a six-part se­ries about Phillip Is­land’s pen­guin colony) and Drugs, Death and Be­trayal, an Un­der­belly- in­spired spe­cial about cor­rup­tion in the drug squad.

A new deal has been sealed with The Chaser boys. Dal­ton, how­ever, scoffs at re­ports the Chaser deal is worth $6 mil­lion.

‘‘In their dreams,’’ Dal­ton says with a laugh when asked about the fig­ure. ‘‘It’s ($6 mil­lion) a non­sense.’’ In 2008, the ABC’s five-city prime time share is up 4 per cent to 16.9 per cent — the largest growth of any free-to-air net­work year on year. The ABC has also made huge strides in mul­ti­chan­nelling and on­line op­er­a­tions.

An im­pres­sive 8.2 mil­lion vod­casts have been down­loaded this year, with the most vod­casts com­ing from At the Movies (839,000), triple j TV (724,000) and Bed of Roses (705,000).

In­ter­net broad­cast site, ABC iView, has proved a mas­sive suc­cess.

The con­cept was launched in July, of­fer­ing audiences the chance to watch shows when and where they wanted, full-screen and in high res­o­lu­tion.

To the end of Septem­ber, the ser­vice had recorded 1.4 mil­lion views.

‘‘The ABC is there to ser­vice a broad and di­verse au­di­ence,’’ Dal­ton says.

‘‘I think in a way every­one (in­clud­ing com­mer­cial net­works) is comfortable with the idea of the ABC lead­ing the way in the dig­i­tal area. As a pub­lic broad­caster, we don’t have a busi­ness model that says the main aim of the game is to ag­gre­gate large audiences. We have a dif­fer­ent set of ex­pec­ta­tions at the ABC.

‘‘The on­line en­gage­ment is broad. If we have a Chaser or Chris Lil­ley ( Sum­mer Heights High) then we get a huge num­ber of young peo­ple com­ing in. But Bed of Roses and Gar­den­ing Aus­tralia are pop­u­lar with the older au­di­ence. It’s (ac­cess to iView) spread across the de­mo­graph­ics.

‘‘It’s no se­cret the ABC is un­der-re­sourced and I think we do a great job with the re­sources we’ve got.’’

Broad­cast news:

ABC’s di­rec­tor of tele­vi­sion Kim Dal­ton prom­ises big­ger things next year.

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