Path to new Australian TV: Closed Until Further Notice
Australia, to me at least, has a fairly non-existent television market. Even with the introduction of brand new digital channels, we live on a staple diet of imported television and the grisly fat of TV executives and producers who have grown plump and lazy on a diet of reality TV, serial cop and hospital shows. In terms of longevity in the international market, our most successful export is Neighbours. We lay claim to the ratings success of the Masterchef franchise through our new innovative TV programme whilst those from the UK mutter about the show being theirs and Australia just tweaking the format. We look at the rebadged, reformatted American Idol and wonder if we too can resurrect the Australian pop zombie it took ten years to kill and whose names we barely remember. We create Underbelly once as a successful return to drama, and now gorge ourselves senseless on telemovies, TV shows and whatever else spin offs the creators can milk from it. We watch the same formula of lifestyle, reality, cop and hospital. How incredibly tiring.
Here in Australia, we are happy to pay 100K for each episode of ‘Two and a half Men’ or 25K per airing of ‘The Simpsons’ and not so happy to part with the estimate 800k per episode it costs to create Underbelly. This is despite Underbelly being screened in New Zealand and future plans to screen it in Scandinavia, Canada, France, Britain, Italy, Balkans, Korea, Pan-Asia, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Germany and Ireland or counting the success of the sale of DVD box sets locally and internationally post screening. If we could produce shows to export quality on a regular basis, we wouldn’t need to purchase quite so much content from overseas. But we don’t because instead of creating, it’s easier to order someone else’s programming.
It’s easier to profit from SMS voting and programme sponsorship and franchising rights. But how can it truly be justified when it can cost $3000 for one 30second slot for a commercial during some high rating programmes and businesses such as Coles paying $3million to be a major sponsor of Masterchef? If you treat TV as a creative medium, it cannot be justified. However TV in Australia isn’t a creative medium, at least not for the commercial channels. It’s about business. And the market here is ripe enough without needing to bother with a little old thing called creativity. Look around you and see just how much TV branded and endorsed merchandise Biggest Loser and Masterchef have. Why would you want to forgo big bucks like that for some pesky little thing called originality?
Our TV consumption has remained the same, even though we now have the internet as a form of entertainment. Instead, our reports of ‘multi-tasking’ have increased. When the Nielsen report which stated TV had increased came out, along with most people enjoying both TV and the internet at the same time, I could understand this. I just didn’t sing its praises and think it wonderful like the TV execs. I can understand it because our TV just isn’t riveting enough for us to pay it singular attention. It’s not interesting enough to capture our attention and stop us from doing something else whilst it’s on. Or for it not to be forgotten as something on Facebook or somewhere in cyberspace becomes way too entertaining. I would challenge anyone who uses the internet and TV at the same time to recall plot lines, key dialogue, what characters were wearing, hell in some cases what programme they were watching. Just because we are still as Palahniuk would put it “the noise-a-holics, the quiet-a-phobic’s” doesn’t necessarily mean we actually have the TV on and are consuming it. It’s just there, that’s all.
The largest growing sale category in DVD sales and film consumption in Australia is…<drum roll please> TV. It’s really interesting to note that we purchase TV on DVDs yet the programmers and producers in this country fail to see there is a market trend towards moving away from traditional TV viewing to user choice through purchasing. Even our screen bodies talk about the popularity of DVD sales through the introduction of blu-ray, the added benefit of special features or the price drop associated with box set DVDs as reasoning behind the change as opposed to realising people simply have gotten tired of wading through terrible programming and obnoxious TVCs in order to get to their programmes. Instead, we plug in more digital channels and re-run Everyone Loves Raymond, Baywatch and To the Manor Born and use this technological advancement of allowing for more channels to bring back TV series we all really hoped we wouldn’t see again. I mean, I am all for retro programming, but not on every bloody channel!
The message seems to be pretty clear- forget trying to push anything new onto Australian TV. Unless of course you come up with “Who wants to gouge a Millionaire?” or perhaps a gangland style Big Brother house where our finest Australian criminals battle it out against each in a cook off, and even then, make sure you allow for franchising, SMS voting and sponsorship.
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