The ABC Responds to Funding Challenge
ABC Managing Director David Anderson has outlined restructures to the Australian Public Broadcaster as a result of Federal Government indexation pause and budget cuts.
Announced in 2018, the indexation pause has reduced the ABC’s budget by AUD$84 million over three years and results in an ongoing reduction of $41 m per annum from FY2021-22, which comes into effect in July next year. This is on top of $64 million of ongoing cuts that were imposed on in 2014.
“In real terms this means our operational funding will be more than 10% lower in 2021-22 than it was in 2013,” he said. “We anticipate we may farewell as many as 250 people through this process, valued colleagues who have made tremendous contributions to the ABC. After consultation, those who are leaving do so with our thanks and best wishes for the future.”
Announcing a Five-Year Plan, Anderson pointed to savings identified in response to the government’s indexation pause.
- Firstly, savings generated through third-party negotiations (including Foxtel satellite transmission costs and Content Distribution Network agreements);
- Second, savings generated by efficiency measures, including production reviews, savings in support services and management restructures;
- Third category is changes to the content delivered to audiences.
“Overall, the savings and strategy are designed to make us leaner, focused on meeting the needs of our audiences now and into the future,” said the ABC MD. Our savings drive will reduce costs in management and support teams. This includes working with our support teams to identify further savings of over 2% through current vacancies, redundancies and reduced operating costs. It is proposed that every division will be losing staff as savings have been identified across the entire organisation.
“We have also been reviewing our travel budget with a view to increasing our use of technology to connect with each other. The COVID-19 pandemic proved we could rely more on technology to stay connected and we have now set a 25% reduction in our travel budget across the ABC.
“Our Product and Content Technology teams will introduce new solutions with a reskilled workforce that includes better and more efficient ways to manage our broadcast operations and archives.
“In addition to these changes, we are reviewing and rationalising our property portfolio and considering our options to either improve our accommodation, lease vacant space or relocate if it is more beneficial. Assessing spare capacity for leasing in ABC Ultimo, for example, could potentially create $4 million a year in savings. A portion of these savings could be reinvested in services..
“While we are not announcing a reduction in the number of broadcast channels across radio and television, the initiatives we are undertaking show a shift in our investment from broadcast to on demand. It’s not the right time to reduce networks as radio and television services continue to attract large audiences. Across the next 5 years however we will advance our planning to achieve transmission savings by reducing broadcast services as audience behaviour continues to evolve.
“When it comes to ABC services on other broadcast platforms, we will reduce duplication of services on FOXTEL Satellite transmission. We will consolidate the ABCTV State Feeds. Audiences will still be able to receive their local ABC through their free-to-air television service and many FOXTEL satellite customers will be able to access all ABC programming through the iview app. Radio on Foxtel was discontinued last year.”
In terms of specific content changes, local radio will see the cessation of the 7.45 am bulletin. A 10-minute bulletin at 7:00 am will continue, and a new 5-minute bulletin will be introduced at 8:00 am, followed by the AM program until 8:30 am. The 45 minutes of news will reduce to 30 minutes. Investment from services with a single broadcast focus, such as the 7.45 am radio news bulletin, will be redirected to services that are available across all audio platforms, 24/7, available to all Australians at a time that suits them.
In Regional and Local, there are a number of changes including to the executive team, which will reduce in size.
ABC Life will become ABC Local, with a broader editorial direction. The content that ABC Life carries like relationships, families, health, cooking and gardening have been a successful part of ABC Radio broadcasts for many generations. ABC Local will continue to take those stories online and make them accessible to a mobile-first audience.
In the coming months, ABC Comedy will be rebranded as a broadcast channel, although it will remain an on-demand online destination.
“We will still commission comedy for the main channel as we do now,” said Anderson, “but by rebranding the broadcast channel it allows us to schedule other specialist content that currently exists elsewhere.
In Entertainment and Specialist, there will also be changes to the executive team which will also be reducing in size. A review of the operational model will also be undertaken.
CUTS TO INDEPENDENT PRODUCTION
David Anderson also announced a reduction in spend with the independent production sector by approximately $5m p.a. from July this year. This will predominately come from the factual and entertainment slate and we will prioritise our investment in Drama and Children’s, and ensure we have the rights to grow our on-demand services. We will focus on commissioning first run content across a reduced 42 weeks.
Audio Current Affairs will be merged into one team called Audio Hub, and offer an increased focus on digital and on-demand audio services.
A reviews into the ABC’s National Newsrooms, operations and support will also be undertaken.
In a subsequent statement, the ABC confirmed that the cuts would not affect its role in emergency broadcasting.
“We will always prioritise the delivery of emergency broadcasting services as the community expects of us,” said the statement. “There are absolutely no plans to change the way in which we cover emergency events. In fact, we are proposing to improve the service with closer ties between our emergency broadcast team and our local and regional teams. This would ensure our local teams have greater control over this coverage and be more responsive during emergencies such as bushfires and extreme weather events.
“Contrary to some reports, we would continue to have national coordination in our management of emergency broadcasting.”
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