“ABC. It’s easy as one, two, three.” Crikey offers this (for free) to our public broadcaster as its new line for marketing television.

This morning, ABC’s head of television, Kim Dalton, told Crikey that The Australian was wrong to suggest that the ABC would be dropping the famous squiggle (Dalton calls it the worm, technically it’s a lissajous curve) from its television logos.

There is a big rebranding announcement coming late next week, but all the new television logos will include the squiggle, Dalton says, and the graphic used by The Oz this morning “is not the logo”. Dropping what Dalton calls “the worm” would be, he agrees, a crazy move. The ABC’s logo consistently shows up as one of the best known brand symbols in Australia.

The significant thing about the rebranding is the restructuring of ABC television to make the digital channels equally prominent to its main analogue Channel.

Instead of ABC Television and ABC2, with the implicit suggestion that ABC2 is subsidiary, there will be ABC1, ABC2 and, it is hoped, ABC3 – the much anticipated new digital children’s channel. Each will have a different role.

We have to wait until next week for the details on how this will work, but Dalton says it involves more than logos. It is about the “look and feel” of the stations and “the way in which content will be distributed across the channels”.

Does this mean the ABC is confident of getting funding for the children’s channel? The former government committed funding for this, but the Labor Government has yet to do so.

If Dalton has been given any behind the scenes promises, he won’t say. The ABC is not so much confident of funding, but “confident of its arguments” in favour of the new channel, he says. He also notes that it was part of the ALP’s election platform that the ABC should meet Australian content requirements. This means, he says, that its output of Australian drama would have to be quadrupled. “I think the Australian people want that to happen.”

The truth is that the ABC’s rebranding and multiple channel plans play into the larger agenda for communications policy. At present only about 40 per cent of the population can receive ABC2, due to low uptake of digital televisions and set top boxes. With more content and better “differentiation and branding”, says Dalton, the ABC can be part of the drive to get Australians to buy digital equipment. This is vital to the Government being able to meet its target to switch off the analogue television signal.

And so although nobody inside Auntie is so arrogant or foolish as to say so, the ABC seems to think it can expect a boost in the budget, despite the general atmosphere of cuts and austerity.

One of the unanswered questions is whether this will mean more in-house production or more commissioning of content made by outsiders. Will the ABC grow in numbers, or only in clout?

Dalton says there are no immediate plans for an ABC4, 5 or 6, but in the long term, as television spectrum frees up with the switch off of analogue, it is clear that ABC television is likely to have many faces. Add to this television content streamed over the internet and by vodcast.

But if all this is to be more than a cake made with flour and water, there will have to be significantly increased funding for content as well. This makes the forthcoming Budget, and the next triennial funding round to begin next year, one of the most important in the ABC’s history.

CRIKEY: See Crikey’s media section for your chance to design a new ABC logo.

Peter Fray

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