ABC must innovate to do more with less, says Mark Scott

By David Donaldson

Friday August 15, 2014

The ABC will need to remain innovative so it can do more with less in the future, Mark Scott told students at Queensland University of Technology this morning, adding that the broadcaster is considering outsourcing a wide range of support functions.

Scott argued that the ABC had done well at creating popular new products, citing the success of initiatives such as ABC24 — created with funds freed up by previous efficiency drives — iView and VoteCompass — a message to the government that it should not underestimate the importance of investment in innovation.

Yet in a time of stretched budgets, it will be increasingly important to make sure the broadcaster is getting the most back for its buck. “The challenge at the ABC is to ensure networks provide high quality content whilst ensuring investment is at the right level, work processes are efficient and effective and programming is relevant and engaging to audiences,” he said.

“We must acknowledge how much the world has been altered by digital media, and how rapidly and urgently we need to change to deal with this. Changes that might have taken ten years in the analogue age now take place within the space of one.”

Scott expressed his approach to innovation as “if we want things to remain as they are, things will have to change”, citing the classic Italian novel The Leopard.

The ABC chief signalled that we are likely to see outsourcing playing a larger role in future:

“There is a strong argument that in an era of scarce funding, the default position should be that unless there is a compelling financial — or importantly, editorial — reason for an activity to remain in-house, or unless it relates to an area of core competence for the ABC, outsourcing must be looked at.

“We’re reviewing support activities like property and IT, procurement, HR and finance activities in a robust fashion. Are there activities that we can drop, automate, do differently? We are working with SBS to see if, by working more closely together, we can make backroom savings, while remaining independent editorially.”

Noting that the ABC had produced many new online services, Scott stated that in future it would have fewer websites which would offer “richer digital experiences and more opportunities for engagement and participation” — for example by putting specialised services such as arts closer to high-traffic areas like news, “where it can attract the attention of a wider audience it deserves”.

He added: “Of course, if you use ABC content, you are already seeing examples of our digital investment. We have, for instance, established a new team to help us with digital storytelling, new apps that will allow people to configure the mix of news content they want according to where they live, and programming where audience members shape the future of the narrative.”

Broaching the topic of the Department of Communications’ Lewis report, Scott stated:

“There have been numerous references lately to the Lewis Report, a study by the Communications Department into backroom efficiency at the two public broadcasters.

“Contrary to perceptions in some quarters, Lewis is not designed to be, nor has it been accepted by the ABC, as a prescriptive list of ways to cut spending within the Corporation. Nor is it designed to put a figure on what the national broadcasters need to save.

“Lewis has simply pointed out what the ABC has always understood — the fact that we have always done things one way doesn’t mean we have to keep doing them the same way. With an eye on efficiency, with a need to reinvest — and with the reality of reduced resources — difficult choices must be made.”

A transcript of Mark Scott’s speech is available at The Crane.

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