Isn’t it ironic how the ABC unions and luvvies are leaking confidential information to The Australian, like yesterday’s report about the budget for The Chaser’s The Hamster Wheel? The leak was presumably done to damage the management of ABC TV, led by Kim Dalton, and to enhance the position of the union and opponents of Dalton’s management. But the leak was selective and the analysis just as poor.

Of course, if Sky News, which is controlled by News Limited (which owns The Australian) wins the DFAT contract for The Australia Network it will rip $22 million a year from the ABC budget which will mean more staff cuts and outsourcing. The union and people inside the ABC would naturally protest at the loss of the contract and the damage that would do to the ABC, but this is what they are doing now by leaking against ABC management and leaking selectively.

For example in this morning’s effort there’s no attempt to compare the claimed budget for The Chaser’s new program to previous Chaser budgets or compare it realistically to the budgets for other programs, or previous Chaser programs. Sorry, there is a rather ham-fisted attempt at a comparing the budget for The Hamster Wheel with other programs:

“The total cost of the co-production is $3.2 million, which makes it one of the most expensive shows on the ABC, at $400,000 per half-hour episode. In contrast, internally produced programs the ABC recently axed, The Collectors and Talking Heads, cost just $122,000 and $53,460 per half-hour episode, respectively. The leaked figures are a revealing insight into the way the outsourced and co-production model works and comes as the Senate finalises its report on ABC outsourcing, due on Wednesday. Based on figures heard at the Senate inquiry,The Hamster Wheel is almost twice the cost of a quality drama like Screentime’s Crownies, which senators were told cost $10 million for 22 one-hour episodes.”

But that comparison ignores the fact that Collectors and Talking heads are entirely different programs to The Chaser’s latest effort, as is Crownies. The $10 million budget asserted for Crownies, divided by 22 programs gives you a per episode budget of around $450,000 an hour, which does sound light on. Running The Hamster Wheel over an hour wouldn’t necessarily involve a huge increase in costs, certainly not “almost double” — there’s not that much difference between a half hour and an hour program in terms of costs; the studio and production costs are virtually the same. But comedy programs do not work well at an hour, as the slumping figures for Good News World on Ten tell us right now.

The story also ignores the fact that The Chaser talent is much more valuable in terms of TV credibility than the hosts of Talking Heads or Collectors. And we are in a sellers’ market when it comes to proven TV talent. By comparison, Crownies is full of unknowns and that reflects the on-screen performance and the reaction of the TV audience.

An adequate comparison would be with the budgets of Gruen Transfer/Planet (ABC 9pm Wednesdays) and Spicks and Specks at 8.30pm. Both are comedy content programs and both half-hour productions. Hamster Wheel’s first episode last week averaged 1.289 million viewers across the country, metro and all regional markets. If the $400,000 an ep figure is accurate, that’s three viewers for every $1 spent, which is a pretty good equation. Commercial networks would keep a program on air for quite a while if it got that return (and the viewers are concentrated in the prize 18 to 49 group).

Crownies last week had a national audience of 741,000. At around $454,000 a ep, that’s around 1.65 viewers per dollar spent (and the Crownies budget does seem a little low for a drama). The answer, which enemies won’t accept, is that the ABC gets more out of spending on The Chaser than it does from a below-par drama like Crownies which is ratings spack filla, just there to give the ABC local content and local drama. The Slap’s national audience was 1.322 million. Just looking at the program last week (and with no real knowledge), I’d estimate that was probably a return of around two viewers for each $1 of budget, perhaps as much as 2.5 viewers. But not as good as The Chaser’s first up effort the night before.

Crownies and The Slap were both outsourced (Screentime does Crownies; The Chaser has its own production company; Matchbox Movies did The Slap). All three were needed, for various reasons, by ABC TV.

Peter Fray

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