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Dan Ilic to head satirical comedy project for Al Jazeera in US to woo younger audience

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 8.16.10 AMComedian Dan Ilic is to produce satirical content for Al Jazeera’s digital platforms in the US in a project designed to attract a younger audience to the news network.

Under the title of senior producer of satire, the Australian writer and comic will travel to San Francisco immediately after Christmas and recruit a team to create and produce content.

The project forms part of AJ+, Al Jazeera’s 12-month-old division to expand its presence in the mobile and social arena.

Ilic, who earlier this year raised $50,000 through crowd-funding to transform his ABC Radio National show A Rational Fear into a digital comedy hub, will produce content skewed towards an American audience but with a “global outlook”.

It will take a satirical look at current affairs and politics in a way that is accessible for a younger audience who might otherwise take no interest in the news.

“The challenge for me is to take dense subjects and break them down in a really manageable entertaining way to delight and enlighten an audience,” Ilic told Mumbrella. “That is kind of my remit. We did that with A Rational Fear by breaking down the stories and backfilling them with jokes and that’s what I hope to achieve with AJ+.

AJPlus_logo_black“It’s an interesting and exciting experiment in how to engage younger digital audiences in global news. That is fundamentally the key, creating content about subjects that a young audience might otherwise skip and making it digestible so that they take something away.”

There will be a mix of short and longer form “investigative humerism” content, he said, adding it will be similar in style and tone to that of British political satirist John Oliver, whose show Last Week Tonight has become a hit on cable channel HBO this year, with segments widely shared on social media.

The partnership with Al Jazeera follows the success of A Rational Fear’s crowd sourcing and its collaboration with The Guardian which saw satirical content sit on the publication’s website. Ilic then unsuccessfully attempted to pitch the format to TV networks before Al Jazeera approached the comic to create material for its social channels.

“I’m unaware of how many resources I’ll have, but I’ll be building and leading a satirical comedy team,” he said. “I’ll be fronting some pieces but will also be doing a number of other roles. It’s the Australian industry standard to have 10 different roles and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing in America.

“Al Jazeera is an incredibly data driven company so we’ll be learning all we can about how to engage audiences online with the news, using data and audience statistics to crack what we are making,” he said. “It’s matter of finding what works.”

Ilic said Australia is years behind such developments, citing the launch of video streaming operation Stan as an example of Australia being slow to catch up.

“All these streaming platforms are coming out now eight years after Hulu,” he said, in a reference to the US streaming firm.

Ilic said his approach to the Al Jazeera work will differ from A Rational Fear which was under no pressure to attract an audience and “ran with the best idea”. The AJ+ model will attempt to draw in as big an audience as possible.

He predicted 60 per cent of the content will be “interesting and very newsy but accessible”,  with the rest split between “really accessible” and “challenging”.

Steve Jones

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