New ad-free government channel tunes in children

SYDNEY — More good news for the hot Oz kidvid market: The federal government in late April announced that it intends to launch a dedicated children’s channel screening at least 50% local content.

The popular idea emerged from the vast so-called “20-20″ ideas summit hosted by the Kevin Rudd-led government after it was elected late 2007.

The channel will be ad-free and administered by pubcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC).

“Kids programming punches above its weight and is accounting for 25% of our revenue even though it is less than 25% of our catalog,” says Fiona Crago, head of sales at Beyond Intl.

“Bananas in Pyjamas,” “The Wiggles,” “Milly Molly,” “New MacDonald’s Farm” and “Five Minutes More” are staples for local sales agent, as are kids’ drama skeins such as “Saddle Club”; these have not only helped free-to-air nets fill children’s drama quotas, but also have been big sellers in overseas markets.

The ABC’s charter demands a commitment to domestic and children’s programming.

“Bindi Jungle Girl,” spun-off from the late Steve Irwin’s “The Crocodile Hunter” and toplined by his daughter, is another skein that’s found slots in almost every overseas territory.

“Kids live action series have always done well,” says Southern Star Intl. topper Cathy Payne.

The main game, however, remains primetime and Australia’s biggest export programs are still comedy and docs.

Crago says among international buyers “there’s been a flight to quality.”

Subscription television, where docs sell very well, is stable but “free-to-air networks worldwide are feeling the pinch,” Payne says.

Chris Lilley’s biting high school satire “Summer Heights High” is the best-selling Australian comedy right now. Eight-part high school mockumentary has been picked-up by HBO and BBC 3.

It continues the tradition of Aussie laffers going abroad forged by “Mother and Son,” “The Paul Hogan Show” and more recently, “The Chasers War on Everything.”

Topical “Chaser” comedy skein achieved notoriety at the 2007 APEC Summit in Sydney when show’s cast easily infiltrated the summit’s security zone despite one of them being dressed as Osama Bin Laden. That segment was aired by news shows in the region, and a sale to America’s G4 followed.

Gina Riley and Jane Turner’s “Kath and Kim” sold to a slew of territories before NBC acquired format rights last year.

Karen Dacey, sales manager at ABC, says format rights have sold well for “The Gruen Transfer,” its ad industry analysis skein from production shingle Zapruder’s Other Films.

“It was the big hit of the last market (Mip TV); everybody just got it,” she says.

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