By Imogen Corlette
Graeme Mason of Screen Australia says if the new TV broadcasters – Netflix, Presto, Stan and Quickflix – are to make their mark, it’s time for new ideas and stories about, by and for younger Australians.
“Look, there have been some really great TV dramas in recent years – Love Child, Puberty Blues, Paper Giants spring to mind – that have been really popular with audiences 40+, who are the bulk of TV viewers” he says. “They do well because they connect generationally with viewers.”
“With shows like these, Australian TV is killing it in terms of ratings and the networks have a lot to be proud of. The industry is doing great work and pulling incredible numbers for its core traditional audience. It’s much more engaged than our film sector.”
So what’s the problem?
“My nephew, who’s 18, doesn’t watch these shows. He doesn’t even own a telly! He watches online and doesn’t distinguish TV from online content. But what he’s watching isn’t Love Child and Puberty Blues, it’s more likely Bondi Hipsters and Mighty Car Mods. YouTube series. And I think he’s pretty indicative of his age group.”
“So while traditional TV drama is performing well with one audience segment, we’re losing a generation”, says Mason.
It seems what’s defining content that’s popular with younger viewers is brevity, comedy and, perhaps surprisingly, documentary. Or at least, information-based programming. Ideally, all combined. Case in point – Veritasium. Short, funny and informative. And currently enjoying a subscription base of over 2.3million viewers. For a science show!
Then there’s also the lo-fi yet stunt-laden comedy series Versus by Adelaide-based Philippou brothers, known as ‘the RackaRacka’. Recently funded to create three new episodes of their high octane YouTube series, they had 1 million views in one day across YouTube and Facebook. Two weeks later – a combined 3 million views. Those are numbers that would make any broadcaster proud!
Of course, Australia’s love of humour is also tied to a sense of self as the laconic larrikin: the laid back Aussie that pokes fun of themself and doesn’t take life too seriously.
“If I were a distributor today, I’d be making short, edgy, info-based comedy with 16-30 year olds” says Mason. “Comedy is something we all relate to. It’s how we like to think of ourselves. We’re quick to laugh and it’s a way to be inclusive and included.”
But the YouTube comedy that’s ranking high for younger audiences isn’t the same comedy older audiences are tuning into on broadcast TV. Yes there are the stirrings of some cross over, with The Katering Show girls making regular appearances now on The Project and the Bondi Hipsters boys now producing their second season of Soul Mates for iView while developing a feature film. But there’s yet to be comedic content made for SVOD platforms that captures either end of the viewer market.
So what about drama – surely the younger viewers aren’t only watching real life, either in satire or doco style?
Mason comes back to the topic of generational relativity. Stories that reflect the viewer.
“Interestingly, drama (both for TV and cinema) that performs best outside its country of origin, are those steeped in national identity. Look at the UK’s Downtown Abbey, Ireland’s The Fall or New Zealand’s Whalerider, for example. And look at our Paper Planes or Muriel’s Wedding. They’re all very culturally defined and they don’t all try to be a glossy American. Competing with that doesn’t work without Hollywood budgets. The alternative is really getting to grips with our most unique voices, stories and values. That craft a point of difference. People are curious creatures – and ultimately all respond to a really well told story.”
So what does this mean in terms of creating content for SVOD platforms in Australia?
“The great challenge for all types of broadcasters now, with the onslaught of SVOD, is to define Australian-ness in a global context. And to adapt to a fragmented audience with very different appetites for content. We can’t be thinking about TV without thinking about online content anymore – these are fast becoming all the one space. But within this are a range of very different tastes.
“Now is the time for risk taking and new ideas. The changes in viewing platforms means changes in audiences and our industry has to embrace this to succeed. It’s a challenging but exciting time.”
Screen Australia has been supporting the development of new talent using YouTube. See a glimpse below:
Michael Shanks’ (a.k.a timtimfed) The Wizards of Aus has just finished filming. Set in Melbourne, Australia, the web series follows a Gandalf-type wizard, having turned his back on the magical realm, as he goes about his every day business in Footscray.