ABC warns of content cuts

13 October, 2014 by Don Groves

The ABC will be forced to dramatically cut spending on content if the federal government does not fund the costs of redundancies and other efficiency savings.

ABC MD Mark Scott delivered that blunt warning on Monday as he complained the broadcaster is still waiting to be told exactly how much it will have to slash its operating budget by months after the May budget imposed a $120 million reduction over four years.


Expressing his frustration, Scott said in a speech at Melbourne University: “We are still not sure precisely how much will be cut. We are still not sure precisely when the cuts will become payable.”

Scott bemoaned the uncertainty and lamented the forced redundancies of more than 80 people, representing more than 1,000 years of experience.

“The final strategy for dealing with the funding cuts will have to be determined by the board and executive once the size of the cut and the repayment timing is known,” he said.

While the board is implementing efficiency savings recommend by the Department of Communications review led by Peter Lewis, Scott said: “Our aim always is to protect audiences and content from these changes as much as possible.

“Many efficiency changes we can make will definitely be invisible to audiences—new, more efficient backroom technology, changes in the ABC’s property footprint, layers of management and procurement contracts.

“So while we’re following the timetable anticipated by the Lewis report, if the government refuses to fund those transition costs, then it’s going to be some time before any savings can be realised. Meanwhile, the only alternative will be to cut content dramatically.”

Scott said ABC’s decision to outsource production had resulted in a multiplier of up to three times each ABC dollar spent on screen. In the past three years the ABC’s investment of $22 million in programming in WA, SA and Tasmania alone had been leveraged to production budgets of $63 million.

He cited such successes as Wastelander Panda, drama Anzac Girls, documentary The War That Changed Us, Tim Winton’s The Turning and indigenous works Outside Chance and Flash Black.

“We continue to look at the ABC’s current content spend to find where funds might be saved, freed up to reinvest where we know it’s most needed—the most competitive media space of all, online and mobile products and services,” he said.

“We will have to spend less on television and radio to spend more on online and mobile—not just in content, but on the capacity to deliver the services demanded.

“We know that to flourish within this space, we need to play to our strengths —iview,  ABC News online, triple j, and ABC Kids.”