The Arts

Aug 3, 2011

Outsourcing the arts at Aunty: the problem with commissioning

ABC TV’s flagship program Art Nation has been axed and 15 people have also been reportedly offered redundancies. So what does that mean for arts programming, asks Nicholas Pickard?

Rumours have swirled for just over a week and yesterday ABC management confirmed what had already been suspected: ABC TV’s flagship program Art Nation has been axed and 15 people have also been reportedly offered redundancies.

The program has been screened for just three years with limited publicity and yet Kim Dalton, head of ABC Television, told The Sydney Morning Herald that one of the reasons for its axing is audiences had fallen by “about 30-odd per cent over the past few years”. The axing will not affect Tuesday’s Artscape slot, the First Tuesday Book Club, At The Movies or ABC2 Live arts performances.

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10 thoughts on “Outsourcing the arts at Aunty: the problem with commissioning

  1. Holden Back

    The question being whether Arts Nation did any of the desirable things Ralph Myers would like to see on television.

    What little I saw of it was a fairly shallow magazine program with almost no genuine critical position other than ‘the arts might be groovy’.

    But then I know about art, and what I like.

  2. Jim Blundell

    Your item on Outsourcing the Arts quotes Cassandra Wilkinson, chair of Sydney radio station FBi FM and Music NSW board member, saying that FBi FM attracts an average of 250,000 listeners.

    I’d reckon this is some sort of (unspecified) reach or cume number, it’s definitely not a meaningful average.

    Commercial Radio Australia’s website shows top-rating 2GB averaging 172,000 listeners in its weekday Breakfast , and 88,000 overall in radio Survey #4 this year.


    Might I suggest your writers challenge and clarify press release puff pieces and claims from any source?

    Jim Blundell

  3. Vincent O'Donnell

    I’m hopelessly biased on this (I produce the radio program, Arts Alive) but you have to ask.

    Why is Arts Alive, a weekly one hour, arts and culture current affairs radio program one of the top rating programs on the Community Radio Network.

    Part of the answer is that Arts Alive does not treat the arts as though they occupied a sacred silo, to be spoken of in hushed tones, high sentiment, and special language.

    The arts are a real part of life for 50% + of Australians. They are to be enjoyed, not sealed in amber. And they can be discussed in the same terms as sport, business and politics. If fact, the arts can be sports, business and politics, as well as history and religion etc, so media can cover the arts as they cover everything else.

    Vincent O’Donnell

  4. paddy

    I’ll miss Fenella’s take on the arts scene.
    But I also suspect this whole business is much more about funding the 24ABCnews debacle and slashing costs elsewhere.

  5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Before Sunday Arts the Sunday afternoon collection of arts programs was often, for me, must see.

    When Sunday Arts came along it seemed that all the budget was spent on this program, and so little money remained to purchase programs that the quality declined to such an extent that I just gave up watching. I’ve never bothered with Arts Nation.

    Of course the demise of Arts Nation does not necessarily mean that more money will be spent on Sunday afternoon arts programs. Perhaps the quality will remain poor.

    Of course there is SBS, except SBS now want people to watch their pay-tv only arts channel (surely a conflict of interest) SBS’s Saturday afternoon arts programs on FTA also fail to impress.

    As someone who appreciates quality picture and sound, I’m also very disappointed by the ABC2 Live Arts. The low bit rate provides less than DVD quality picture and sound, and the intrusive and unnecessary watermark detracts from the experience. As I result I usually don’t bother watching ABC2 Live Arts.

    In my opinion, the ABC (and SBS) are doing a poor job in fulfilling their charters when it comes to the arts.

  6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)


    As well as sucking up funding, ABC24 also wastes precious bandwidth.

    Even though most Australian’s are now able to watch high-definition TV, and most of what the ABC shows is not shot in HD, all the ABC broadcast is standard definition. Even ABC commissioned programs (such as Rake) ares shot in HD.

    And ABC24 also diverts attention from actually providing news. Surely one of the best ways for the ABC to keep Australians up-to-date with news is to have a good “just in” news service on the internet (with stories also sent to twitter). But as so much attention is given to ABC24, updating Just In is not treated seriously. Stories from the 7:45 am radio new bulletin might not appear until many hours later. Stories in the morning newspapers often only appear in the afternoon.

    The main problem with the ABC (and SBS) is how management allocate resources. When they cannot do this properly, giving them more money is not the answer.

  7. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    I really wish that Crikey gave us the ability to edit our posts…

    When I said “most of what the ABC shows is not shot in HD” I meant to type “most of what the ABC shows is NOW shot in HD”.

  8. Rena Zurawel

    ‘Sunday Afternoon’ was the best program ever.We were waiting for Sundays to have real relax and a great review of the arts and artistic events all over the world. And from 1pm to 5 pm every Sunday we had a chance to see and listen to the best performances both in Australia and overseas.
    Whoever got the idea to get rid of the program must have been culturally illiterate. Ever since, there is absolutely nothing to watch as far as the world of arts is concerned. Non events; hard to believe !
    It is only when I recently returned from Europe which struck me how poor our tv programs are.
    For years, BBC had been my favourite channel. Now, it is only for a quick news review. And switch to the computer for arts news.
    Nowadays our youth is not only deprived of decent curriculim at school which would include basic knowledge about arts and performing arts. BBC has nothing to offer. Our TV is addressing noone in particular.

  9. Frank Campbell

    ” serious arts content has shrunk drastically throughout the mainstream media, most particularly in broadsheet newspapers.”

    But sport and low-IQ news (ABC24) is spreading like fungus…

    Someone should measure the volume of sports “interviews” (actually soundgobs) forced on the public. A ghastly mixture of Latin (anterior cruciate ligament) and corporate cliches : “the playing group knows what it has to do to stay focused…”

    More people go to museums than industrial football, remember.

  10. Joceyln Tan

    No surprises to those who have seen him in action that Mark Scott takes this familiar track. As he has done before, Scott first surrounded himself with a tight little team (have a look at the org chart and ask yourself what some of those people do/). Then he layered in lots of polished spruiker types to fill out his troupe of managerial lackeys. He plays hard for the folk who pull strings for him (union officials like Chris Warren, pollies, powerbrokers) or for public status (how many speeches can a man give?). This stage is one where his preferred out-sourcing mates (locally you can pick them) get a big feed and he takes the money from those who don’t have any clout (staff).
    The man has no spine. He’s all spin.

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