EXCLUSIVE: Has the ‘fat lady’ sung on the ABC’s live performing arts events?
Yes according to the latest audience figures. No according to the ABC.
Last week ABC2 Live Presents broadcast an ambitious live performance of Opera Australia’s Bliss from the Sydney Opera House.
The Neil Armfield production of the tale based on an award-winning Peter Carey novel included live backstage interviews, hosted by Jennifer Byrne and Chris Taylor.
But the broadcast was a spectacular failure in terms of viewer numbers.
Just 6,000 viewers nationally watched the live event.
On Wednesday it was beaten by the Chinese and Arabic News services on SBS. More viewers watched religious shows This is Your Day with Benny Hinn and Life Today with James Robison before dawn.
According to OzTAM figures, just 2,000 people watched in Sydney, 2,000 in Melbourne, 1,000 and Brisbane and Perth. In Adelaide, the city of festivals, nobody watched. It ranked at #331 for the day.
Amanda Duthie, ABC’s head of Arts and Entertainment, told TV Tonight while the figures were disappointing, the broadcasting of new Australian works was more important than simply looking at ratings figures.
“It’s not driving force behind the initiative and these collaborations. We have this fantastic strategic partnership with the Australia Council which allows a really diverse slate of performing arts to find their way onto primetime digital screens and regional cinemas,” Duthie says.
It was screened to Melbourne’s Federation Square plus regional cinema locations including Albany, Hervey Bay, Port Augusta and Bunbury.
“If we’re not going to take those risks, such as with the Australia Council and arts organisations or producer, then I’m not quite sure who is.”
But the audience for the 3hr live event paled even compared to similar events. In 2008 ABC2 broadcast Keating the Musical to 73,000 viewers, which was a record for the channel at the time. ABC2 Live Presents has also broadcast live performances of la Boheme, the Australian Ballet. In January Jai Ho! a live concert by Slumdog Millionaire composer A. R. Rahman, netted around 55,000 viewers.
So are classics or commercially-driven events such as Keating the Musical more accessible picks for broad audiences than opera?
“With heritage work people know what to expect when they’re going to see Cosi or Swan Lake. What we wanted to show was how Graeme Murphy engaged with Swan Lake and how Jim Sharman engaged with Cosi,” says Duthie.
“It’s about a distinct Australian take on those productions.
“Bliss is an all-Australian production with amazing key creatives, based on such an iconic Australian work.”
ABC even hosted a ‘Bliss-athon’ in the lead-up to the live broadcast with a Artscape: Making Opera Bliss and a re-screening of the movie Bliss: The Director’s Cut with an interview between David Stratton and Ray Lawrence plus a discussion on the film adaptation in Jennifer Byrne Presents: Books to Film.
“We provided other opportunities for people to get to know about the opera and to engage in conversations around Bliss,” says Duthie.
“We went to great effort to get that Making of on air before the curtain went up on ABC2 Live.
“Having the arts gateway and being able to rollout all of these different entry points for a work is pretty exciting and we’re not going to abandon that just because of the numbers.”
Duthie says the broadcast will be repeated at another time on ABC1.
“There will be other opportunities for an audience to come to it and by the time it gets a repeat it would have travelled around the country.”