Australia Network ‘not dead yet’. The Australian may be continuing to campaign against the ABC’s Australia Network and claim it will be axed, but some ABC insiders think the network could survive — perhaps in a pared-back form. The Australia Network is an international television service that beams into Asia and the Pacific. It’s funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs at $20 million a year. The Abbott government has been critical of the network and the contract that awarded it to the ABC. The AN may well be axed in the May budget; “it’s certainly under grave threat, but it’s not dead yet”, a senior ABC figure told Crikey yesterday.
With ABC International CEO Lynley Marshall believed to have been deep in talks with DFAT officials this week, some believe a compromise deal is on the table in which the AN could survive on a bargain budget. A deal could cut the $6 million a year the AN pays the ABC for access to regular ABC news and current affairs content. It may be that the AN will be refocused more towards teaching English, with less news. The future of the AN’s flagship program, Newsline with Jim Middleton, has been shored up — it’ll merge with ABC News 24 show The World from March 10. The new show will be co-hosted by Middleton and former Bangkok correspondent Zoe Daniels, and will air on News 24 and the AN.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull set the hares running this week when he suggested the AN could be replaced by digital streaming of News 24, but insiders say that seems like a thought bubble and Turnbull is not heavily involved in negotiations about the network’s future (which are being driven by DFAT and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s office). It’s understood there’s disquiet in some corners of DFAT at axing the network.
One factor that’s received little media attention is the $6 million AN pays to ABC News a year to air ABC shows (ABC International confirmed the sum to Crikey today). AN pays to run shows from Seven, Nine and Ten; similarly, it pays the ABC (the amount fluctuates each year). That means if the AN is axed, the ABC loses not just three Asia-based journalists, but also $6 million for its regular news and current affairs programs — making it that much tougher to make budget. ABC insiders say that’s part of the reason Sky News, part-owned by Rupert Murdoch, was so keen to win the contract to deliver the Australia Network (Sky was on the verge of winning it when the Gillard government controversially selected the ABC). Sky could also have used the AN contract to shore up its regular programs.
The AN may pay to run content from Seven, Nine, Ten and the ABC, but that didn’t stop The Australian running a front-page “exclusive” on Wednesday critical of the AN’s attempt to buy and run content from Sky. Bishop told the paper it showed the network was “struggling”. — Cathy Alexander
Macquarie students hiring. Readers of Wednesday’s Australian might have been puzzled by a job ad in the Higher Education section for a provost for Macquarie University. The ad says it is “Seeking a Student-Friendly Provost” who “support[s] democratically-elected student representation” and “must believe in student control of student affairs and funding” …
But keen readers will see the fine print: “This is a parody advertisement funded by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations for MUPRA.” Those postgrads seem pretty cross at previous provost Judyth Sachs, who announced last week she would not return to the university following her sabbatical (a strip ad in The Australian can cost more than $8000, though this ad is smaller and cheaper). The stoush seems to have begun when Sachs announced plans to “wind up” the Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association in May of last year. This was followed by a Change.org petition to keep the union. MUPRA is now hoping for a friendlier relationship with the administration and is willing to give thousands to the Oz to make its point. — Cassidy Knowlton
Can Spicks and Specks save ABC Wednesdays? There once was a time when the ABC’s Wednesday night line-up was unmissable. It was around about 2007, when The New Inventors would warm us up before the good old reliable Spicks and Specks, which was the centrepiece of a line-up that featured The Chaser’s War on Everything, and other brief, but significant ratings hits, such as Chris Lilley’s We Can Be Heroes and juggernaut Summer Heights High. And for those of us who lasted through until 10pm, Margaret and David were there, At The Movies. But things weren’t to last.
Spicks and Specks started out in 2005 with an average of around 650,000 viewers in its first season. By the time it ended in 2011, it was consistently raking in around 1.3 million. Since then, no ABC comedy has drawn those kinds of numbers, though Gruen Transfer bubbled along nicely, and a few six-episode series have performed well. The ABC tried and tried to replicate that success with new programs, but given its limited budget, was reluctant to commission anything new for more than a short season. Remember Randling? The ABC ordered a 27-episode series, which started out relatively strongly, but dropped sharply. And then for some inexplicable reason, they put the first season of Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell in a Friday night slot. And then they buried the first season of Josh Thomas’ brilliant, critically acclaimed Please Like Me on ABC2. And then they commissioned Wednesday Night Fever. Remember Wednesday Night Fever?
The ABC was in desperate need of a saviour, and after noticing that Spicks and Specks re-runs were achieving consistent results on ABC2, they decided to pull the series out of retirement with a fresh new face, John Farnham-style. Or perhaps, more aptly given its cosmetic makeover, Cher-style. — Ben Neutze (read more at Daily Review)
Video of the Day. If you’re one of those people who has chosen not to have children and enjoys long nights of sleep and frequent holidays as a result, this video goes out to you. It’s an “ad” for a new movement promoting the health and wellbeing effects of not having kids. “Not Having Kids is a new alternative to having kids, that may help you achieve personal happiness and alleviate daily stress, eliminating the ultimate crushing of your dreams and aspirations,” the ad proclaims.
Front page of the day. Forget all that pesky controversy over human rights, and the threat of deadly terrorism, and let the Games begin …