Distinctive content -not Exclusives- underpins ABC News & Current Affairs, says ABC managing director Mark Scott.
“Powerful and distinctive” content, together with adaptive change, has seen the public broadcaster weather the digital disruption that has hit other media hard.
In a Keynote Address at the New News Conference, at Melbourne University, Scott cited the National Reporting Team, Fact Check Unit and Regional Division amongst some of the ABC’s responses to funding cuts and audiences moving online.
“ABC News Digital has seen a 54 per cent increase in reach from FY2010 to FY2015. And ABC News has proved more resilient to general market decline than most major competitors in terms of average audience, particularly in regional areas. News 24 was the first free-to-air television channel to stream all its content in Australia and it has since its earliest days,” he said.
“In the newest platform, social media, the ABC’s performance is clear. The ABC has the top Australian news presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vine and Instagram, as social media traffic continues to be the main traffic source for the ABC’s mobile site. Over the year to June 2015, the ABC News YouTube channel surpassed 85 million views – almost double its nearest rivals. On television, we pioneered in this country the seamless integration of the viewer’s social media contribution through the tweets on Q&A. Not without some risk, you might have noticed.”
Scott rebuffed some criticism that suggests does not break news.
“In our newsrooms we call it ‘distinctive content’, reports that are either broken by the ABC or given significant new information and fresh angles by our journalists. Some of our print competitors might tag such reports ‘exclusive’ in red ink right before they publish them on the bottom of page seven.
“The figures are impressive. 21 per cent of TV News 7pm bulletin items are ABC distinctive content; 20 per cent of Radio News stories; 76% of 7:30 program stories; 92 per cent of radio current affairs stories; and 39% of total online news items.”
He cited the Four Corners report Making a Killing, by Caro Meldrum Hanna and Sam Clark which triggered a major police and RSPCA investigation into greyhound live baiting; boards and racing regulators sacked and a Special Commission of Inquiry in NSW.
Scott also noted diverse ways of addressing news, especially for younger audiences, including The Checkout, Triple J’s Hack, Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell and The Weekly with Charlie Pickering and the legacy of Hungry Beast which has seen so many continue in broadcasting.
“In this era, a Leigh Sales interview is event television, with the social media audience often shouting ‘too hard’ or ‘too soft’ in a way that brings me comfort that nearly all the time she gets it ‘just right’.
“In this era, so many good people. So much powerful and distinctive work.
“The erudite credibility of Mark Colvin, the fearlessness of Sarah Ferguson, the tenacity of presenters like Tony Jones and Michael Brissenden. Alan Kohler’s ability to find the simplicity on the other side of complexity. The incisive genius of Annabel Crabb. That brilliant cameraman, Louie Eroglu, who made The Killing Season look like it had a Hollywood feature budget. And Insider’s Huw Parkinson, who looked at The Killing Season and saw it really was a reworking of The Breakfast Club.”
But the ABC has also had to address changes in newsgathering under former Director of News, Kate Torney. ABC is yet to announce her replacement.
“Kate is a single-minded revolutionary and she assembled with her what I believe to be Australia’s finest news executive, with a determination to stake out the ABC’s position as the nation’s leading provider of news,” he said.
“Over the past five years, ABC News has achieved a 30 per cent growth in total consumption hours and grown TV reach by 10 per cent over the same period. In the same time, ABC News has achieved a 20 per cent reduction in cost per broadcast content hour,” he said.
“We have experienced vast change at the public broadcaster and know it is hard. Every program, every current investment has a fierce and vocal constituency. But we are investing hard in the digital infrastructure we need to deliver best for our audiences – to have a true audience-centered digital strategy.
“When I reflect on my time at the ABC, I know there are initiatives that have been high profile: like the creation of News24 and iview. But I suspect the work we have done over the last 18 months may be just as enduring. Creating a digital network division, centralizing and prioritizing our UX and developer capacity, creating a new content management system, embracing human-centred design, planning a coherent and integrated user experience, and driving an audience and content strategy will help deliver a pipeline of initiatives in the years to come.”
While other media organisations are challenged by revenue models and digital disruption, the ABC delivers news without the challenge of bringing shareholder profits, he noted.
“But if the ABC went missing, what we would miss would be the content that the ABC is in the best position to provide: Australian conversations and Australian stories that are important to our nation.”
You can read the full speech here.