The ABC’s brand new, and annoyingly big, watermarks are clever because they throw light on perhaps the two most important issues currently facing the national broadcaster.

The branding of the network’s two TV channels as ABC 1 and ABC 2 is a ploy borrowed from the BBC and serves the purpose of elevating the ABC’s digital channel to the status of its main channel. In so doing the ABC is boldly reminding us that it is the Australian leader in digital delivery and could be doing much more to increase services for audiences if only it had more funds.

Incidentally the re-branding has also injected a much needed sense of excitement, signaling that the national broadcaster has survived the Howard years, the board stackings and the budget cuts to emerge in a new era with some self confidence and a clear sense of direction. Given the degree of hatred for the ABC over the last 12 years, that’s no mean feat.

The ABC deserves credit for taking the new media seriously. Its website is arguably the best of any Australian media company and its on-line content has led the way. Its radio networks have truly embraced pod casting which has given new life to networks like Radio National and Radio Australia. With this track record, it’s not surprising that Aunty wants us to imagine what it could do with ABC 2 if it had half a chance.

The funding is important because in truth the new look ABC is really no different in terms of content from previous years. It is still stuffed to the gunnels with BBC product in ways that sometimes make its evening promos embarrassing to watch. Endless ads for yet more British dramas send a clear signal that the ABC has been deficient at delivering Australian content, especially drama.

But what this latest initiative reveals is that Aunty is aware of this deficiency and is trying to do something about it. It’s telling us in general, and the new Government in particular, that it’s fresh and optimistic and really wants to tell Aussie stories, but it just can’t do it without the funds.

But maybe this is unrealistic. With Lindsay Tanner’s razor gang on the loose, it’s probably time the ABC used its proven capacity for innovation to deliver Australian content more cheaply. In my view it has never tapped into the huge reservoir of frustrated film makers and videographers out there who are keenly looking for outlets for the content they generate.

For example, the ABC should have its own version of SBS’s Eat Carpet to create a forum for upcoming producers. It should be commissioning home made documentaries on unconventional topics. It should be broadcasting the best of the material coming out of our film schools. ABC 2 is the perfect place for this experimental kind of programming.

There are loads of ways the ABC can boost Aussie content and develop the full potential of its digital channel, while waiting for more money to materialise.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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