Television

'India is the only market where we pay carriage' : Bruce Dover - Australia Network CEO

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Australia Network, the international channel from the stable of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), has a hybrid mix of news, drama, lifestyle and kids programming.

The state-funded channel, which has an international presence in over 44 countries across Asia, the Pacific and Indian subcontinent, is planning to launch a kids channel for the pre-school and the 8-14-year-olds.

The expansion plan in India also includes introduction of subtitles in English and Hindi. Co-production deals are part of the agenda to keep in line with India as a focus area for growth.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, Australia Network CEO Bruce Dover talks about how the hybrid programming model has worked in many markets. An old hand at media, Dover was Rupert Murdoch's right hand man in Beijing. He went on to write a book titled Rupert Murdoch's Adventures in China.

Excerpts:

Being a single channel broadcaster is a tough proposition. Are you planning to launch more channels in India?

The ABC is looking at an Australian kids channel. This would cover both pre-school and the 8-14-year-olds. The idea is to roll the channel out early next year. But this would depend on the funding that we get from the Australian government.

The BBC made an entry into India after syndicating their content to the pubcaster. Do you have any such plans?

We have to be careful not to cannibalise our content. Otherwise you might want to start a kids channel, but find that you have already sold your content to other channels.

How do you plan to grow in India?

We are planning to introduce subtitles in the fourth quarter of this year. Perhaps, this is necessary because of the Australian accent that our coverage would have. We are also looking at Hindi subtitling for our movies, dramas and documentaries.We already do subtitling in Vietnam. Indonesian subtitles have been introduced this week.

India is flooded with strong English international channels. How would Australia Network make a mark in India?

Our speciality is that we are a hybrid channel with a varied programming mix. We have news and current affairs which make up 25 per cent. Then there is lifestyle and dramas, documentaries and children's programming.



Earlier the thinking was that TV channels fit single genres the best. International channels like NHK, though, are now following our model.

The lifestyle content is in terms of travel shows and what it is like to be an Indian student in Australia and vice versa. We have a show called Student Postcard where one learns about the good, the bad and the ugly of studying in an Australian university. Can you go out? Can you meet girls? You want to know if certain areas are safe to go out at night.

Our aim is to give Indians more insight into Australia. We do English language learning which is popular in India. This is for students who want to study overseas. We have programming as well as a site which helps you learn and become more proficient in English. Also, there is the cricket link. This helps drive interest in our channel.

India is a difficult market to get such a niche channel like yours distributed. How much is Australia Network spending on carriage?

India is the only market where we pay carriage fees. I can't get into the specifics of that, but we are working with the Setpro team and they have good relations with the operators. We have a five-year deal with them.

Almost 70 per cent of our viewership comes from the South. We are on the Sun Direct DTH platform. We are also available on several cable networks across the country. We have identified 15 towns where we want a sizeable presence.

'Though the government funds us, the people of Australia support us. We fill up a void left by the commercial broadcasters in kids programming. Our news and current affairs content also does not carry ads'

Are you looking at co-productions in India?

It is one of the areas we are looking at. We feel there is a big opportunity here. You could get an Australian cricketer and an Indian cricketer coming together for a show. Factual content around interesting issues would be our area of focus.

We are also looking at doing co-productions around children's content. We have some IP software. We do kids science programming in other countries. The software and the textbooks can be recreated.

How many feeds does Australia Network have?

We have three. One is for the Pacific region, which is important as there are not many channels carrying independent news in this belt. Then there is one for North and Southeast Asia. A third feed is for South Asia. We are now looking to have a feed for the Middle East.

Which are your key markets?

Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong are key markets for us. We recently launched in Indonesia and Malaysia and are satisfied with the progress we have made.

India is also an important market for us. We just went through a re-branding process with the tagline 'From Our World to Yours.' It is about introducing Australia to India.

What was the aim of the rebranding?

We wanted to make it more relevant. We did work with Saatchi and Saatchi as they had the Tourism Australia advertising contract. They spent half a million dollars on research and focus groups as the contract was worth $40 million. We went to them to find out how brand Australia is being perceived in the market.

How difficult is it to be a public service broadcaster when you have to depend on government for funding?

We only earn 10 per cent of our costs. The government funds us. The ABC gets its budget every three years. But the people in Australia have no problem with that. The ABC has a long history of producing world class children's programming. There is an educational bent to it and we have shows like Wiggles. Besides, we do not carry ads, something which parents love. We fill in a void left by the commercial broadcasters.

Our news and current affairs content also does not carry ads.

How has the global downturn affected ABC?

The current economic situation provides an opportunity for us as private networks scale back on their expensive dramas, news and current affairs. They are forced to focus more on studio-based cheap reality shows.

Do you have plans for the digital space?

We will take this up as our focus area next year. We are looking at English learning applications. We will also provide news and current affairs video content on the mobile platform.

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