This past summer, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) brought in former Netflix executive Susie Jones as head of factual. Jones is now managing the largest output of factual and documentary content in Australia, from science to religion, true crime to investigative journalism, natural history to travel. She talks to TV Real about adopting a “fewer, bigger, better approach” and what she’s on the lookout for with acquisitions.
TV REAL: What’s guiding the factual strategy at present for the ABC?
JONES: Audience and impact are at the heart of our factual strategy as we adopt a fewer, bigger, better approach. We’re looking to continue our strong linear offering while also looking to grow our ABC iview audience, and the sweet spot currently is a show that can do both things for us.
TV REAL: Tell me about the balance of commissions versus acquisitions across factual programming.
JONES: It’s an ever-changing balance that ebbs and flows in relation to the needs of the slate and what’s on offer in the local market and internationally. As the Australian public broadcaster, homegrown stories will always remain key to our strategy.
TV REAL: In terms of commissions, tell me about the types of factual stories the ABC wants to tell.
JONES: We’re interested in a broad range of stories across several genres and forms that reflect Australia, explore who we are and the issues that affect all of us. Whether that’s looking at social issues, such as how we treat our elderly (Old People’s Home for Teenagers, Maggie Beer’s Big Mission), exploring our incredible wildlife and natural world (Ningaloo Nyinggulu) or looking back at our history to understand how we ended up here (Stuff the British Stole). With all our commissions, we consider both the subject matter and form and question if both are relevant to our slate and audience. Increasingly, we look to forms of stories that feel fresh and relevant to on-demand audiences—often, this means first-person narratives or being innovative with form, less overtly didactic and more immersive storytelling.
TV REAL: With regard to acquisitions, what are you on the lookout for at the moment?
JONES: Acquisitions are looking for big, broad, factual content that covers everything from accessible science to history to travel.
TV REAL: As the ABC, what sort of mandate must you keep top of mind when it comes to the factual programming?
JONES: As with all ABC content, we must remain relevant to all Australians and continue to inform, educate and entertain on matters of national significance. At the core of all our factual commissions, there must be authenticity, integrity, heart and relevance.