THE DEATH OF AUSTRALIAN TV

It pains me to say this: TV in Australia is dying.

With budgets now operating at their tightest and ever-shrinking audiences, our TV has never been under greater pressure. We’re seeing some of our favourite shows meeting the programmer’s axe.
Like saying goodbye to old friends, the cancellation of our favourite shows is a painful process. These are shows that have gotten us through tough times. Ones we’ve cried with, laughed at and celebrated.

In 2014 we’ve had more reasons to mourn than ever before.

At The Movies, with icons Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, is finishing up on the ABC due to the hosts’ impending retirement. Rumours abound the show was the first victim of many in a brutal round of budget cuts to hit the national broadcaster and this retirement was an opportunity for Margaret and David to bow out gracefully.

Just last week The Roast finished up; another casualty of cuts from Aunty. With this show’s passing we no longer see daily Australian news/political satire on our screens at all. (Yet there’s still enough money in TV circles to make The Bolt Report. Go figure.)

It was super exciting to hear Spicks and Specks had been reinvigorated with a new core cast in Josh Earl, Ella Hooper and Adam Richard, though the constant re-runs of the original series and people unable to separate the two casts with the same show meant it saw a premature finale in July with six episodes still to air (starting 8pm Friday 14 November on our ABC).

While pretty much everything has underperformed on the Ten Network this year, new drama Party Tricks is unlikely to get a second season in 2015 due to lower than expected ratings.

The show stood to be a vehicle for Asher Keddie while being easier on Ten’s bottom line than Offspring (which is unlikely to return due to significantly increased costs with another season – plus that final episode ended it all nicely). Now both shows face the axe.

That’s not to say some shows haven’t deserved their removal from our screens this year.

Seven’s Bringing Sexy Back reminded us of everything that’s bad about reality/makeover shows. The Big Adventure wasn’t mentioned in the Network’s 2015 schedule either so it’s safe to say this abomination of reality TV has been similarly euthanised, along with The Amazing Race Australia.

The second season of ABC TV’s Tractor Monkeys didn’t perform and so we can be safe in the knowledge it won’t appear again. Big Brother’s only saving grace is that it performs well in the key viewer demographics and is super easy to insert sponsor products that will deliver significant revenue to home network Nine. So You Think You Can Dance Australia was monstrously expensive and was viewed by about 10 people.

Then there’s the glitch in the matrix that is A Place To Call Home. Cancelled by Seven towards the end of season two this year to howls of protest by fans (the reason? The audience it was attracting was “too old”), there was little hope until Foxtel stepped in and announced the already written season three and to-be-created season four will air in 2015/16 on SoHo.

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An overdose of reality has led us to become mentally obese. It’s dulled our senses and we’re only now coming out of our stupor. What’s the reason for the lack of good homemade fare on our telly?

Television programming is in the middle of a new golden age that started with HBO and The Sopranos and now many US networks are delivering some of the most compelling and absorbing drama seen in years (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy, and True Detective etc.)

This renaissance, coupled with a rise in internet speeds, means Australians are now able to consume overseas content much quicker and can sidestep the old Network linear-broadcast model of “when it suits us” (e.g. Downtown Abbey season five will finish in the UK at Christmas while we wait for it to start ‘after the tennis’).

The bar has been raised significantly for Aussie producers to deliver content that stacks up against these stellar shows. We’re expecting more and our local networks are being found wanting (though shows like The Code, Secrets and Lies and Wentworth are notable exceptions).

Audiences are shrinking while our population is growing. Since 2001, the highest rating program – other than sport or special events like a Royal wedding – has been the winner announcement that saw Julie Goodwin crowned MasterChef Australia in 2009 (3.74 million*).

These days if a show in primetime rates over 1 million viewers it’s considered an outrageous success. More than 1.5 million tuning in and Aussie TV executives are popping champagne corks. A mere 800,000 viewers is seen as reasonable and enough to justify the expense of a program that five years ago would have been considered a failure and shows rating higher were cancelled for “underperforming”.

We have so many ways to watch TV now.

Netflix is coming to Australia in 2015. The streaming video on demand (SVOD) giant changed the game by commissioning original content that this year was both Emmy nominated and Emmy winning (Orange Is The New Black).

Last week Fairfax and the Nine Network announced that their SVOD joint venture ‘Stan’ is launching in 2015 too and will open with the highly-anticipated Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul.

Both Stan and Netflix are offering high-quality original content that isn’t getting a first run on broadcast television.

The Australian free-to-air networks all offer catch-up services with varying degrees of success, from the excellence of ABC’s iView and SBS On Demand to the diabolical TenPlay.

The future of Australian television is very different to even what the Networks expected when they created these services. They didn’t expect so many people to get their TV via other methods, which has led to lower expectations and far less tolerance for ‘failing’ shows.

As Networks cancel our favourite shows we’re being forced to find our television elsewhere (and they wonder why audiences are shrinking).

Has your favourite show been cancelled? Are you a catch-up person, do you record and watch later or watch live?

*All figures quoted are OzTAM ratings – five city metro only (BNE/SYD/MEL/ADL/PER).

 

*Steve Molk is passionate about television, particularly the stuff that is made in Australia. He talks about it all the time on radio around the country and writes about it at MolksTVTalk.com. Follow him on Twitter (@MolksTVTalk) for everything you need to know about what’s happening on or around Australian TV.

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