08/08/2011 at 12:15 pm 3 comments


In case you missed it, the big news this week was the dismantling of Art Nation by the ABC, along with staff redundancies marking the end of internally produced arts programs for the forseeable future on our national broadcaster. ABC management rhetoric is that there will still be arts coverage on Sunday afternoons, only now it will be outsourced from production houses.

In the industry, this is technically known as A Really Fucking Bad Idea. And not just because it involves people losing their jobs for no good reason. The arts in Australia is currently in a cycle of massive expansion; and audiences are literally starved for places to turn to find out what’s happening. To match that expansion, we need to equally draw out our public discussions around the arts, emphasising the diversity and significance on the national and global stage.

Given the breadth and multiplicity of the Australian art scenes; there aren’t many organisations with both the means and incentive to do this properly. And the ABC decides to let the marketplace sort it out? I fail to see the logic. Assuming that hour for hour the amount of coverage does not decrease; what kind of arts content can we expect from the commercial sector?

The short answer is: nobody knows. There isn’t exactly a thriving litany of examples of independent production houses making arts related television. There are some arts documentaries released through the festival circuit; but this is very niche compared to the broad magazine format of Art Nation. I reckon most would struggle to match the scope of what’s happening nationally without succumbing to the perils of the publicity machine. That’s the real benefit of the ABC, it is big enough to operate as a true independent and not become trapped by commercial interests. At what point do these outsourced companies draw the line between covering Art for Art’s sake, or covering Art because there’s some canny cross-promotion in the works? Or because it’s popular? Whether the new shows are better or worse, one thing is for sure: they won’t be independent.


Make no mistake, commercial production houses are strictly in the business of keeping their heads above water. It’s a highly competitive market and the shift to this sector will mark a decidedly populist shift in arts coverage on the ABC. For better or for worse, we can’t predict, but only a fool would suggest that the decision hasn’t been made with this in mind. It’s RATINGS, baby. HARDCORE. Now, I’m in favour of creating a wider conversation about the arts, so if more people end up engaging with the ABC arts programs as a result of this move, in of itself that is not a bad thing. The problem is the attitude that a more populist conversation must happen at the expense of what we already have.

As I said before – the arts is in a phase of major expansion, along with the public conversation surrounding it. The ABC can afford to grow that conversation along multiple lines, not just in a way that’s ratings driven. Making a shift from one to the other is a major ideological statement, with or without an official explanation. And by the way, we’re still waiting for that which was promised, Mr Dalton…

I think my worst fear is that the outsourced company will be Zapruder’s Other Films ( I mean, who else is there? ) and we’ll end up with a panel-style show that thrives on dumbing down its subject and peppering the broader conversation with lowbrow smut a-la Wil Anderson on The Gruen Transfer (perhaps that’s a subject for another day) or worse, idiotic and uninformed banter in the vein of the abominable Can Of Worms. After all, this is what independent production houses do, isn’t it? Stick with a formula?

Actually if I had my druthers I’d propose an Insiders style panel which actually offers lively analysis and news, interviews and debate around what’s happening in the arts. Skip the sniggering comedy and go with something that actually appeals to the wider ABC audiences who do watch the arts content. We could call it ‘Outsiders’.

Anyone interested in pitching this?


What’s most disappointing about this is the disregard that ABC Corporate have for cultivating a national conversation about the arts. The lack of respect is evident by the tokenistic corporate-board speak coming from ABC Management; along the lines of ‘funding redistribution’ – euphemistically referring to the jobs lost. At a time when ABC TV is expanding onto multiple channels and there is obvious scope (and broadcast space) for wider, more thorough arts coverage, to take this step is tantamount to a slap in the face of the arts community. Can you imagine the uproar if this had happened in their sports coverage? And yet the evidence suggests that Australians are as much into the arts as they are sport – just that the national conversation has been stifled for so long you wouldn’t know it.

On top of this there has been no official statement from the ABC as yet, despite the promises. One can only imagine the PR team in overdrive as the backlash sets in, trying to sell us this turd of a decision, answer the questions coming from all angles (the arts community, the unions, even the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has put his two cents in). Red faces all around as what seemed like a good idea at the time comes back and bites the powers-that-be right on the arse.

Save yourself the hassle, Mr Dalton. The decision can be undone. Otherwise when it’s time for your tenure to end, you might not have the legacy you first imagined upon taking the reins.

Just a thought…

Entry filed under: CRITIC WATCH, Criticism FAIL, Marketing. Tags: , , , , .

INSIDER MARKETING: Alienating New Audiences “We can’t talk to shadows in the street”

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. James Waites  |  08/08/2011 at 1:05 pm

    Why bother with any arts media that needs paying for when there are mugs around like you and me who will do it for free!! TV may as well join the newspapers…lol

  • […] on the general cultural ill-health of proper attention given to the national arts sector. I put a full spray out on why this is nothing short of a disgrace from the ABC a few weeks ago, and have been waiting […]

  • […] copping a blast of criticism last September for axing the grassroots arts program Art Nation from the Sunday arvo slot on ABC1; […]


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