Mark Scott’s Christmas Message to Staff
2008 has been marked by a number of significant ABC achievements – including the launch of iView and ABC Breakfast News, our history making coverage of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics 2008, and continued progress with a new television production model.
As well, the Chaser boys have now gone an entire twelve months without being arrested.
Audience research indicates that the relationship between the public and the public broadcaster has never been stronger.
ABC1 has achieved its highest audience share on record. Seven of its ten most watched programs this year were Australian. New programs like The Gruen Transfer and The Hollowmen proved popular, as did some familiar staples such as Australian Story and Four Corners.
The 7pm News increased its audience again this year to average 1.1 million. A raft of ABC programs such as Media Watch, Gardening Australia and At the Movies gained record audiences.
This was another year in which the ABC presented, to the widest possible audience, a range of documentaries that helped us understand the people and events that have shaped Australia.
The Howard Years and The Prime Minister is Missing were among our most popular programs, revealing how much interest there is in our history.
The year has again shown that people expect and want a comprehensive range of content from the ABC. The ABC’s unique mix of the specialist and the popular allows so many people to engage with the ABC at so many different points in their lives. It continues to add to the sum of public goodwill for the ABC.
Over 4 million Australians have used ABC Online in the past 3 months – over 30% of online Australians. Its average monthly reach is now 2.3 million.
36 million podcasts have been downloaded to date – up by close to a third on last year. Vodcasts stand at 14 million, and since its launch at the end of July, ABC iView has recorded over a million visits and over two million views.
The reach of ABC Radio this year is the highest on record. One in three Australians are listening to ABC Radio each week, and four million listen to Local Radio.
The four national networks – ABC NewsRadio, Radio National, ABC Classic FM and triple j have achieved year on year increases in reach.
All in all, we have done well – but we have to do well. And we can be optimistic, if cautiously so.
The Year Ahead
We are at a point now where a number of forces and events that will determine Australia’s culture, its future and the future of the ABC itself in the digital age will soon be coming together.
It is expected that Australia will, within the next five years, have both a fully digital television environment and a national broadband network. Both represent new opportunities for the ABC.
Another defining event will be that Tuesday night in May next year when the Federal budget is handed down and we learn the Government’s response to the ABC’s funding submission for 2009-2012.
Of course, the severe economic downturn now means our funding bid will be considered in a vastly different context than we may have envisaged a year ago. Finally, the decision made on our submission will be impacted by a variety of factors, many beyond our control.
What we must do is develop sensible, strategic and compelling arguments, while we continue to produce top quality and compelling content for our audiences today. And we must continue to spend the money we have now, wisely and effectively.
I have outlined details of our funding submission both to you, to the media and at various public events throughout the year.
It is a content-driven proposal. We have set out future plans for broadband and digital radio content, ambitions for digital tv services with children’s and civic affairs content on ABC3 and ABC4, and more Australian drama and documentaries.
We see each of these as a means to an end, a way for the ABC to continue to help educate, inform and entertain the nation, help increase innovation and boost Australian creativity.
A paradox of the digital era is that while it will be characterised by plenty – with a greater range of content choices than any previously experienced – it will also be characterised by scarcity – with less choice in some culturally significant areas.
In local and regional content, for instance. Less choice in quality current affairs journalism in television and radio. And significantly, less choice in Australian children’s, documentary, drama content.
This kind of screen content has historically been one of the deepest sources of Australian identity. And ensuring it is one of the choices available to Australians in future is one of our most significant cultural aspirations.
For reasons like this, there is a growing appreciation by Government that while the ABC funding agreement lasts for three years, it will have consequences for a decade. And lasting implications for our cultural and democratic life.
And it is not just the Government. Earlier in the year, there was a collective recognition within the group that had been asked at the Australia 2020 Summit to consider Australia’s future, that Australia’s experience of digital life has been and will be inextricably linked to the ABC.
The digital future is less distant and more of a reality to many Australians now; the ABC is widely acknowledged for having helped create that reality.
While the Prime Minister has already identified the preoccupying challenges for Government – the global economy, education, climate change, and the health of Australians, three key factors will influence how the ABC’s triennial funding submission is assessed:
· the direction the ABC itself has taken, and perceptions of our achievement
· results of the public consultation of Towards a Digital Future and
· political and economic circumstances.
We have been creating a definition of the ABC as a public broadcaster in the digital age this year. Each initiative we have taken helped show our potential, and helped make the argument for the ABC to be appropriately funded so that this potential might be realised.
We have responded to audience interests and behaviour, and innovated with both content and technology, and importantly, with the way in which we work.
Changes recommended by the TV Production Review have allowed us to create a new television production model that is both more efficient and specifically designed for the ABC’s digital future.
I believe the larger purpose behind this is understood. That we have had to change the way we work so that we can continue to meet our content commitments.
By putting the Production Review recommendations into practice we have also given consistency and clarity to the argument that the ABC has, before seeking extra funding, done all it can to ensure its existing funding is used efficiently.
However, I also appreciate that no matter how great the goal or how necessary, change of this magnitude often comes at a personal cost. That the burden falls unevenly, and that the direct impact felt by one is felt indirectly by many.
This is why we have ensured that whenever possible, career options have been provided to these colleagues and that the full expertise of our People and Learning division has been made available to them.
We announced initiatives in March that would assert the ABC’s leading role in digital media – the establishing of a Continuous News Centre (already producing results with ABC News Breakfast), the launch of iView and ABC Shop downloads.
With live coverage of the complete Australia 2020 Summit on ABC2, we demonstrated what a public affairs channel would look like, and the difference it could make to civic life.
I am particularly proud of ABC News Breakfast, both for its content and for what it says about the future ABC.
Though imitation often seems to be the most sincere form of television, it was important that ABC News Breakfast not be another Sunrise or Today. It was important we showed how the ABC can extend the range of choices, to ensure alternatives in future.
In an era of plenty, this is one of the most significant contributions the ABC can make.
There are many other notable breakthroughs, small trials with potentially big results – such as Pool, ABC iView, Sidetracks and ABC Earth. These show an ABC that is simultaneously in step with the public now and also leading the way.
The same spirit is evident in ABC2 having doubled its audience in the first 3 months of measurement.
Q&A has invigorated democratic debate and, since television is much more a part of our daily lives, done more for authentic engagement between the public and their elected representatives than the more remote workings of Parliament.
The program was one example among many of the ABC’s place as the nation’s virtual town hall- not just our oldest and largest public affairs forum, but our most contemporary.
If we were to add up the ways in which ABC content now reaches people – the mainstays of radio and television, the 5 million plus pages of content at ABC Online, and the streaming, downloads, and iView emanating from it – we see an ABC whose relevance, rather than declining, only continues to grow.
Twenty years ago a belief prevailed that public media would by now be less, not more relevant in our lives.
The ABC continues to defy that prediction, and will do so in times ahead. That is only possible due to the dedication of all who work for the ABC, for which I thank you.
As the Summer holiday season is almost upon us I have arranged for all staff to receive a $35 ABC Shop Gift Voucher to be distributed by email later tonight, or for colleagues without email, via the internal mail.
If you haven’t received your voucher by next week, please contact Melanie Borg in Corporate Marketing via email or on extension 82-5543.
Finally, I wish you and your families a happy, safe and restful Christmas and New Year.