ABC MD Michelle Guthrie highlights global opportunities for the local industry

17 November, 2017 by Jackie Keast

SPA CEO Matt Deaner and ABC MD Michelle Guthrie. 

The Australian screen industry has more potential to “go global” than is currently being realised, according to ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie.


In a Q&A session at the Screen Forever conference yesterday, Screen Producers Australia CEO Matthew Deaner asked Guthrie what she thought was needed to build the local sector’s capacity.

While the MD said she didn’t have all the answers, her time working in Asia and London had made her think there were global opportunities that were currently being missed in Australia.

She pointed to Hoodlum Entertainment’s Harrow, which is being produced for both the ABC and ABC Studios International, as an example of the kind of program becoming increasingly possible to make in a global platform environment.

“ABC [Studios International]… were completely sold on the script. For them, it didn’t matter that it was Australian.”

“Frankly, more and more programming, particularly with the rise of global platforms, is global.”

Screentime’s Pine Gap, a co-commission for the ABC and Netflix, was another example of such a program. “We’ve got the Australian rights and are delivering to the ABC audience… a program that otherwise wouldn’t get made without international support.”

The ABC has worked with several international partners of late. Netflix also co-produced the second season of Glitch, and the broadcaster has worked with SundanceTV to produce the second seasons of Rosehaven and Cleverman. 

Guthrie hit back at criticisms that have been leveled at the ABC in the past for working with Netflix.

“My favourite [criticism] is the narrative, which I very often see: how dare a taxpayer-funded organisation gift money to Netflix, that doesn’t pay taxes in Australia?

“I really find it quite extraordinary – I keep trying to explain – no, they give us money. It’s the other way around. We don’t give any money to them; they’re giving us money to put into productions… They get global rights and we get Australian rights, and we think that’s a great outcome for the local industry. ”

Such partnerships helped to deliver high-end, high-budget local content that the ABC couldn’t make on its own, she said. When audiences are used to seeing programs with huge multi-million dollar budgets like The Crown, a drama made for $440K “is not going to be compelling enough.”

“What we need to do is actually have the greatest stories possible, try to get some global partners involved and frankly, find a way of increasing the budget.”

Guthrie also further outlined the ABC’s intention to “internationalise” iview next year. “The issue for me is: In the same way Netflix is global, why aren’t we global? Why isn’t iview global, why isn’t ABC Listen global?”

While Guthrie said rights issues would mean iview wouldn’t necessarily be able to have the same content in each country, “at least the core component of our news and current affairs, the core component of our own production, but also a core component of the things that we are actually making specifically for iview, we should absolutely have available.”

“To be able to do that we are going to have to have login, geo-blocking and all of those product pieces, but that’s not beyond us.”

Elsewhere in the session, Guthrie said the ABC’s planned 18 per cent increase on local content spend next year would mainly go to the independent production sector, which was received by applause from those in the room.

She also said the restructure announced on Tuesday, which will see the broadcaster’s traditional divisions between TV, radio and digital abolished, would facilitate “much deeper, more involved” conversations with the independent production sector about multi-platform approaches to programming, pointing to the War On Waste and Stargazing Live as the kinds of shows the ABC intends to do more of.

IF Magazine is a media partner of the Screen Forever conference.