SBS tipped to axe Ellen Fanning’s The Observer Effect as network unveils plans for World Cup year

Ellen FanningSBS is expected to axe its high profile long-form interview series The Observer Effect after the show’s poor ratings performance this year.

The speculation comes as supermarket chain Coles has conceded it “may” have complained to the show’s production company Shine Australia about an interview between journalist Ellen Fanning and Coles CEO Ian McLeod.

Sources at SBS and Shine have told Encore that the program, hosted by journalist Ellen Fanning, will not return in 2014 after failing to draw viewers or gain sufficient traction with its interviews.

“It would be a miracle if we brought it back,” said an SBS source. “The show has not performed in terms of wider traction and was rushed out.”

OzTam Ratings show The Observer Effect averaged 106,000 viewers in the 8.30pm Sunday timeslot hitting a low in June of 70,000 and a season high a few weeks later of 149,000.

When asked by Encore whether the show would return in 2014, both SBS and Shine declined to commit to its return.

“The Observer Effect season has only recently concluded and it’s too early for an official decision on its return for 2014,” said a spokesman for SBS.

Sources at Shine have also told Encore that the production company received a strong rebuke from supermarket chain Coles for an interview between Fanning and Coles CEO Ian McLeod.

In the interview, Fanning confronted the supermarket boss with a leaked internal presentation showing the chain used “every PR tactic possible to neutralise the noise” around its decision to drop the price of milk in supermarkets to $1 a litre.

“Coles were pissed and they let it be known,” a Shine Australia source told Encore. “Coming from someone like Coles, who spends so much money with us, it was a big issue.”

Coles has been the major sponsor of MasterChef, one of the production company’s other shows, in recent years.

Shine refused to comment on its discussions with the supermarket chain but a spokesman for Coles told Encore: “We talk to other Shine execs all the time given our association with MasterChef and so it’s quite possible that the interview may have come up in conversation.”

The supermarket chain said it was a “hard hitting interview” but denies it used its influence to push for the show to be cancelled. “We would not seek to use our sponsorship agreements to seek favourable treatment from any media outlet,” said the spokesman.

“They asked the tough questions and ran a pretty hard hitting interview, so certainly no evidence of pressure having been applied.”

An SBS spokesman said: “Coles has no impact or influence on SBS programming decisions.”

Media analyst Steve Allen said the show was a victim of the intense competition between Seven and Nine. Allen said: “It’s an enormously tough timeslot up against the likes of ABC’s Paper Giants and Seven’s X Factor. It was very difficult.”

Allen said while the concept of the show has potential, it was always going to be a tough sell.

He said: “Ellen Fanning is tremendous talent but it is more the competition. Look at how much trouble Ten has with getting programs up – there is ruthless competition the way that Seven and Nine are battling it out. A lot of other channels become casualties.”

The Observer Effect launched in early June promising in-depth interviews with high-profile Australians acting as the ‘observer’ for news and current affairs and offering personal perspectives on the issues shaping national debate.

While the show promised to focus on ‘observers’ rather than politicians it featured a number of politicians in its first weeks, such as Bob Carr and Barnaby Joyce and drew criticism for being underdeveloped.

At the time of its launch, The Australian’s TV reviewer Ian Cuthbertson compared the show to a plane without wings.

“I felt like a passenger in a plane who suddenly discovers the design of the wings hasn’t been finalised. Never mind, chump – we’re flying,” wrote Cuthbertson. “The Observer Effect has great potential. It’s just a pity the program wasn’t better developed before it aired.”

The Observer Effect was not mentioned at this week’s SBS upfronts presentation for 2014.

The network emphasised that its highlight – and key commercial focus – will be the soccer World Cup in Brazil in June and July. The network holds the exclusive live rights in Australia on all platforms.

During the announcement, director of TV Tony Iffland said that the broadcaster has increased its local content commissions by a third in the current financial year.

Two new documentary series he announced were Shine’s Living With The Enemy, which will see two people with opposing views placed into each other’s lives. And Australia’s Secret Heroes, from Joined Up, will tell the story of Special Forces in the Second World War.

Also joining the lineup is Peter Fitzsimons The Great Australia Race Riot.

The network will also offer a new twist on the crime stories told in Underbelly, with Once Upon A Time In Carlton, commissioned from Northern Pictures and featuring Mick Gatto.

And one of SBS’s most reliably rating shows Who Do You Think You Are will include Andrew Denton, Jacki Weaver, Rebecca Gibney, Richard Roxburgh and Lisa McCune.

Meanwhile, the 16-39 focused secondary channel SBS2 will see news and culture show The Feed extended from 15 minutes to half an hour a night. And the network has commissioned a standup comedy show fronted by The Chaser’s Chas Licciardello.

Iffland said: “SBS has a strong reputation of delivering ground breaking, thought-provoking, original content and 2014 solidifies our aim to provide a schedule with consistency, easier navigation and extraordinary depth of programming.”

Nic Christensen and Tim Burrowes

Encore issue 36This piece first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.



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