ABC Managing Director Mark Scott has flagged the establishment of a C-SPAN-like public affairs channel and a dedicated children’s channel to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by digital broadcasting and the development of a mass market for online content.

Scott’s address to the National Press Club today will form the framework of the ABC’s triennial funding submission. The triennial funding process will shortly ramp up as the 2009-10 budget process gets underway within the Commonwealth Government.

Scott placed his proposal for a dedicated non-commercial children’s channel, with at least 50% Australian content, in the context of the current debate over advertising to children. This is a smart strategy, as it would provide the Government — reluctant to upset the free-to-air networks by giving in to calls to restrict advertising to children — with an option that would address parental concerns.

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The heavy Australian content proposed by Scott would, however, come with a hefty price tag. Scott’s speech did not provide funding figures, but generating that amount of content — even for a twelve-hour a day service — would run into the high tens of millions.

Scott’s proposal for a public affairs channel covering “key democratic processes and public events” would be less expensive and might appeal to the vanity factor of Federal politicians, all of whom are big fans of ABC NewsRadio, the dedicated Parliamentary and news/current affairs radio network the ABC has rolled out in recent years.

Scott also flagged more Australian drama — while making the ABC’s internal production more efficient (getting rid of the standing army of internal production staff would be a start, Mark). He also wants to further strengthen the ABC’s localism by developing more online content around ABC Local Radio hubs, building on the single most successful area of the modern ABC, it’s regional radio network.

None of the proposals are new — all have been put forward by the ABC in one form or another before. Funding for a children’s digital channel was a major bone of contention between the Government and Russell Balding. But there’s a low-key, more realistic approach to Scott’s wishlist, concentrating on areas that will at least get politicians interested, if not eager to provide funding.

The ABC, like most other government agencies, knew they didn’t have a chance of extra funding in the 2008-09 budget — in fact you were lucky if you didn’t get a haircut — and 2009-10, in addition to being a triennial funding round, will also be the broadcaster’s first chance to really pitch ideas at the new Government.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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