ABC3 under fire on local content
November 13, 2009

THE ABC came under fire from a new global, ad-free, children's pay TV channel this week for its "unambitious" local production targets for ABC 3, which could force up prices for international children's programming.

Paul Robinson, a former BBC and Disney executive and the worldwide managing director of KidsCo, which will launch on pay TV this weekend, slammed the local content levels of ABC 3, claiming it was "well short" of what was expected of public broadcasters.

"The ABC has said half the content for ABC 3 will be Australian by 2015," he said. "It's a very unambitious target and I'm surprised how low it is.

''It suggests to me they will be in the market competing with commercial broadcasters and replicating what the market already provides. They're using government money which could drive up prices and that is not the role of public money."

Mr Robinson, who created global pre-school channel PlayDisney, said the BBC's kids' channels were "more than 75 per cent" British content and the ABC should be matching those benchmarks.

A spokeswoman for the ABC said ABC 3 would launch next month with "just over" 40 per cent Australian content.

"Our goal is to have 50 per cent in the next 12 months," she said. "ABC TV's original budget bid to Government would have allowed us to have over 50 per cent Australian content. We were not successful."

The launch of ABC 3 is seen as a major threat to pay TV operators because it offers a dedicated ad-free children's viewing environment on free-to-air TV. At least 75 per cent of pay TV subscriptions include the kids' channel package and ABC 3 could have some impact on subscription take-up. "Certainly pay broadcasters have to raise their game because state broadcasters are forcing that issue," Mr Robinson said. "But markets are healthiest when you've got that competition."

Mr Robinson was also critical of advertising to children under 10 years of age and for the level of violence, sexual innuendo and "mean spiritness" in shows on others' children's channels.

KidsCo was launched in 2006 targeting six to 10 year-olds and is owned by the private equity-controlled Sparrow Hawk Media, which also owns the Hallmark Channel.

"We believe a bit in preserving the innocence of childhood and treating them as kids rather than adults," he said. "You don't want to see anything mean-spirited or vaguely sexual."

So far KidsCo's global strategy appears to be working. Mr Robinson said KidsCo usually established itself quickly in the top three children's channels in each of the 60 countries in which it operates.

KidsCo's low-cost model meant it cost pay TV operators about half what other children's channels received for carriage. KidsCo received 5 to 10 per subscriber per month from Foxtel and Austar.