Last week the ABC launched an arts channel on its online streaming service iview.
It contains 35 hours of content, much of which was already produced or broadcast by the ABC in some way or another. At this point, the celebrated (by the ABC) new channel looks mostly like somebody has gone through the iview library and selected anything arts-related or arts-adjacent and put it into a new category along with a few excellent documentaries.
In a media release, Rebecca Heap, head of ABC TV Strategy and Digital Products, said: “The most exciting aspect is the opportunity to commission new, unique content specifically for the channel, adding to the overall conversation and making arts programming more accessible, exploring new stories and shorter form content.”
Hopefully those objectives will be met, but the 35 hours’ content currently online is looking a little bit thin on the ground.
It’s an intelligent idea to move arts content – a niche audience area for the ABC but one it is required to cover – away from traditional broadcast and onto an online platform. But there’s always the chance it will be neglected there, and it means the only major arts content left on ABC TV is the weekly arts news program The Mix, Jennifer Byrne’s monthly The Book Club and the occasional documentary.
It’s part of a larger move by the ABC to redevelop its arts coverage, which will also see the national broadcaster close the online Arts Portal in the coming months. The ABC’s written arts news and commentary will be then integrated into the main ABC News website and given its own “vertical”.
There’s been plenty of excellent content on the Arts Portal since it launched, but it hasn’t drawn a big audience and has copped criticism for being too difficult to navigate.
Over the last several years, arts on the ABC has undergone a number of changes: the axing of the weekly, hour-long Sunday Arts, the axing of half-hour replacement Art Nation, the introduction of Sunday Arts Up Late (made up of mostly international documentaries), the introduction and axing of ABC2 Live Presents (which included both local and international live performances), the introduction of the new arts website (soon to be dropped), the ending of ABC’s long-term arrangement with classical music magazine Limelight, and the launch of The Mix.
When it comes to arts coverage, the ABC keeps rearranging the deck chairs – not on the Titanic, but definitely on a liner which has seen better days – to little effect. Instead of just constantly rearranging the offering, it needs to make a more substantial investment in the arts (like the BBC has), despite the immense budgetary challenges it faces.
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