Newly-installed ABC Chief Content Officer Chris Oliver-Taylor wants the broadcaster to be relevant to all Australians and is open to formats which would fit its Charter and budgets, whilst attracting a broad audience.
“I think it’s really appropriate for the ABC to have an audience watching its shows. We know that with Vera, Utopia and Bay of Fires they come in millions of viewers and watch these shows. And I do think that our main ABC schedule really needs to be for all Australians and we need to get the balance right,” he told TV Tonight.
“Some shows are going to play to big audiences, big numbers and have a relevance for Australia. I want the ABC to be relevant. I want to make sure that people go ‘Yes, the ABC is really important,’ because it is. But also we make a whole number of shows where we bring in significant value back to the Australian people. And that might be in some of our slate like Arts where we’re not chasing a big number by any means. But we’re telling important stories. If we can get that balance, right, I think we’ve done really well.”
ABC has already enjoyed sucess with local adaptations of UK formats such as Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, Back in Time for Dinner and War on Waste, and the former Netflix exec is open to more.
“Not that we would do this, I should stress, but the BBC is running Gladiators in primetime now, which is an ITV (produced) show they’ve just picked up,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s a reason why the ABC couldn’t run shows like Survivor. Obviously Alone was a great success for SBS. There’s no reason why ABC, budget permitting, couldn’t have had MasterChef or Gogglebox. I think those shows really talk to Australians and they allow us to cast diverse and broad.
“I do think we’re allowed to have one or two tentpoles that can bring in a nice big audience, probably in the entertainment space, that allows that audience to find other things. We want people coming into ABC iview and onto our main channel. And we want them to discover Maggie Beer and discover Tony (Armstrong) and Miriam (Margolyes). Maybe one way into that is through a format that’s working very well internationally.
“But no, we would not do MAFS!”
ABC previously screend its own Gogglebox-like show Everyone’s A Critic, in 2018 where art gallery patrons critiqued art works but the show struggled to find an audience.
Last week ABC unveiled its 2024 slate with local dramas Return to Paradise, Ladies in Black, House of Gods, The Newsreader, Total Control, comedies Fisk, Austin, White Fever, the return of Shaun Micallef, factuals with Maggie Beer, Tony Armstrong and Miriam Margolyes and a doco series on 9 years of Liberals in power.
Having commenced in July Oliver-Taylor has inherited much of the new slate from his ABC predecessor, as have recent appointees, Rachel Okine as Head of Scripted, Rachel Millar as Head of Entertainment and Susie Jones as Head of Factual. It will be a 2025 slate to truly mark the new direction.
But he also has hopes to realise a greater uptake of iview and transition viewers to digital.
“We’ve got to make sure that our audience is gently, but appropriately, transferred across to ABC iview. We know they’re all on demand. I know that from Netflix. Everyone’s got Netflix, which means all our audience has figured out and the barriers to entry,” he continued.
“So we want to do it for ABC ivew as well. There’s no excuse now about saying, ‘Maybe our audience isn’t there.’ No, they are there. They’re watching The Crown on Netflix. We know they can watch Vera on ABC iview. That’s one of the visions I want to get to -transferring our audience from linear to on demand, like everyone is doing.
“That’s not unique, but we have to be quite deliberate. And then making sure that we’ve got stories that play big and have impact to Australia.”
Yet while ABC has a roaring success in Kids TV, led by superstar Bluey, there are no plans to broaden to a Young Adult audience.
“I am trying to be realistic. I don’t think that I really want to compete with our friends at Netflix for the Stranger Things audience. I just think that’s silly,” Oliver-Taylor insists.
“Can we realistically compete with the streamers who have very clearly pushed a YA agenda for good reason? Can we compete with Squid Game or Stranger Things? I don’t think so. Not with our budget, right? And will international distribution companies buy YA content to try and compete with those shows in the UK or in the US? Again, probably not.”
However he does want viewers to think differently about the public broadcaster.
“I want to make sure people say ‘The ABC is telling some important stories,. And they’re making me laugh.’
“Not ‘ABC doesn’t matter anymore.’ ABC really matters and dare I say, it matters more now than almost ever before.”