ABC gets kids' go-ahead

Rose Major

Australia’s public broadcaster can go ahead with a plan to launch a dedicated digital-only children’s channel after the government announced a “commitment” to the idea.

While there are no financial details on the strength of that commitment, it is likely that at least A$20 million will be allocated by the government to the channel in the forthcoming budget next month. That will be on top of the ABC’s current funding, which comes from the government’s coffers and is set triannually.

Announcing the government’s stance, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said: “The ABC has always played a strong role in Australia's national identity and I expect the new children's channel will provide significant cultural and social benefits for Australian children. This new digital channel will offer high-quality educational, commercial-free viewing options for Australian families.”

The government is also hoping that the new channel will help drive the take-up of digital TV, with analogue switch-off set for 2013. “A new digital channel specialising in children's content is a great example of the benefits of getting ready for digital television,” Senator Conroy said.

ABC director of television Kim Dalton said the broadcaster was well advanced in its planning for the channel, which has the working title of ABC3. The channel was pitched as having the aim to broadcast 50% Australian content across all genres, including drama, animation and factual programming. New material will be acquired as well as new commissions made, working closely with the independent production sector.

Broadcasting 15 hours a day, the channel will be complemented by a variety of interactive elements and online content. The channel will operate in addition to, rather than replace, the ABC’s existing children’s programming on main channel ABC1 and digital-only ABC2.

Mark Scott, the ABC’s managing director, said: “It is wonderful that in this new era of digital television, the ABC will deliver a dedicated channel for children, available free of charge and without advertising, in every Australian home.”

But the new channel is unlikely to be welcomed as strongly by pay-TV platform Foxtel, nor by the broadcasters offering dedicated children’s channels on that platform. Ironically, these include the BBC’s CBeebies, which itself back in the UK is often accused of undermining the business case of pay-TV children’s channels.