Deep and wide: The creative industry from broadcaster's perspective

By AMRITA VALECHA | 21 December, 2009 - 15:36

Giving the insights of the creative industry from the broadcasters point of view, Zainir Aminullah executive director from Astro, Malaysia, Tim Brooke-Hunt, Executive Head of Children's Content for Australia's ABC Television, and Syafiq Al Fonse from RTM Malaysia gave their perspective on how they look at creative content and how does their channel work.

Zainir Aminullah started his presentation by giving Astro's perspective. He shared, "Astro which is incepted since 13 years, with 2.8 million subscribers and 48% penetration in both urban and rural homes in Malaysia makes it a diverse target audience for Astro and at the end makes our jobs even more difficult. Bahamas speaking segment in Malaysia is the biggest segment in our subscriber base which is another challenge for us. They have a lot of choices on TV."

So how does Astro manage segregating content for such a vast audience? "We look at our subscriber base and categorize them into psychographics and demographics. In all, Astro has 30 networks and 6 networks for Bahamas speaking audience namely Astro Ceria, Astro Ria, Astro Warna, Astro Prima, Astro Citra and Astro Oasis. Our positioning of our content is very tight. Every channel represents a particular type." He added.

Giving examples of successful series on Astro Network he shared, "Mat Kacau on Astro Ceria which was a character from a games show was positioned as 'Fun, Fun, Fun', and no education stuff, which means it is only for kids and not for the parents. We do not aim that our network behaves just as a channel, it should exists as a brand. Mat Kacau not only existed on air, but also a lot of more activities on ground were conducted like Run for Fun where 40,000 kids in Panang participated, we also have a lot of interaction online, micro activities and also the feature to watch the show online. Two years ago we were told TV is not our primary source of entertainment, so how do we handle that, we made sure every TV offering have all the other elements for a wholesome experience for our audience.

Mat Kacua became more than just a game show for the kids and Astro, it became a character and now is being produced as an animation show with a Malaysian Animation studio Inspidea and it has been sold internationally to KidsCo too.

Tim Brooke-Hunt said that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a similar philosophy to Astro regarding providing specialist channels for different audience demographics. As Australia's national public broadcaster, the corporation operates with a total budget of AUD$1.13 billion annually, providing television, radio, online and mobile services throughout metropolitan and regional Australia, as well as overseas through the Australia Network and Radio Australia.

ABC-TV operates three channels. ABC1, the Corporation's original analogue service, shows a wide range of programs including first-run comedy, drama, documentaries, news and current affairs, including 8 hours each day of children's programs.

ABC2, launched in 2005, is a digital channel that targets a younger demographic, offering some original content including news programs and music shows from 6pm daily. During the day-time (9am to 6pm) it offers programming exclusively for pre-school children, particularly animation, which represents two-thirds of the programming.

In May 2009, the Australian government committed $67 million over 3 years to fund a new digital channel, ABC3, aimed at school-age children. ABC3 launched on 4 December 2009, accompanied by a new web-site,

Tim, who is responsible for all content for children on ABC TV's channels, said that these channels now offer a total of to 32 hours of content for children each day. "ABC 1 reaches every home while the digital channels ABC 2 and ABC 3 reach approximately 50 % of homes in Australia", he said.

Similar to Astro, Tim shared that "ABC does not want to give its audience just a TV show but also an on-line experience. Our ABC3 customized portal gives kids a destination where they can explore a wealth of content including program web-sites, games, activities, blogs, videos and user-generated content. The portal also offers a news service for our child audience, and an integrated IPTV catch-up service."

Tim talked about the importance of animation to his audience and said that animation represents one-third of the programming on ABC3. He pointed out that co-productions are key to the financing of animation. He quoted ABC's new animated series DIRT GIRL WORLD as an example, which was co-produced between Australia and Canada.

He said "the ABC is currently co-producing 104 new animated episodes of BANANAS IN PYJAMAS with Southern Star in Australia and Singapore. And we have recently launched a new animated series called ZIGBY, which was co-produced between Australia, Singapore and Canada. Co-production between Australia and other countries allows animated content be produced affordably by securing co-financing with broadcasters from other countries."

Tim said that "virtually all animated shows on ABC involve Asian co-producers". He nominated South Korea as a country whose animation industry that 20 years ago was mostly involved in servicing overseas-originated content, but he said that "today South Korean producers are creating their own content and doing extremely well in the international market".

Tim suggested that government support should be aimed at developing the expertise in production methods in order that studios can deliver shows on schedule and on budget. But he added: "more Co-production treaties are needed between Australia and Asian countries. Currently, Australia has only one treaty (with Singapore), and we also need to encourage more liaison between broadcasters in our region."

He pointed to the European Union's CARTOON FORUM - an annual event at which European broadcasters, producers, distributors and financers get together to attend producer presentations of newly-developed animated shows - as a proven approach to encouraging co-productions and co-financing and said that he felt this example could be usefully followed in Asia.

In his presentation, Syafiq Al Fonse from RTM shared, "RTM is a different from other channels, we come from the government and not a private channel. Our objective is to educate and entertain at the same time. As a tool of the government inculcating unity in a multi cultural society how we get the message across to the audience through our show is through drama, magazine documentary, news, current affair in order to belt Malay Chinese and Tamil audience."

He continued by sharing what are the common problems for the channel. " The biggest challenge we face is to satisfy the customers, and how do we do that is by thinking big in content creation. We have the content but the 'wow' factor is missing. We have the copied content eg. American Idol but what we need is to have local unique content."

Giving his point of view as a broadcaster he said, "I as a broadcaster look at animation producers as partners, and there are in all 3 components of this partnership. One is the station who needs to fulfill its needs and in budget, second is the producers who has a lot on constraints in all the content creation stages and third is the consumer who has the wants and the needs. The 3 components of the partnership are very essential for a successful property.

In his opinion the industry needs to tell them what they want, broadcasters like them are open for a change. " We are open to be partners, share expertise about the industry, policy, guidelines and create content and have a smart partnership. To manage creative talent is very difficult, we have local content but we don't have the expertise and when we buy programs from international creators it is cheaper for us than our local ones. We need mentoring to help the upcoming producers in order to get their show on air and to produce the content the audience is looking for.

All the three speakers gave good insightful messages to all the producers who want their properties to be broadcasted. As Tim Brook-Hunt said, "Without the broadcaster involved, discussing programming just amongst producers it is rather like talking to yourself."