ABC axes regional radio and TV outposts and sheds 400 jobs as budget cuts hit home

Mark Scott ABC managing director Mark Scott has unveiled details of the corporation’s cost-cutting strategy, with up to 10 per cent of the workforce to go, and all non-news TV production units to be shut down outside of Sydney and Melbourne.

Among the changes include the sale of its Lanceley Place site in Sydney, the closure of five regional radio outposts and the Adelaide television production studio, as well as the winding down of remaining non-news television production in other states.

The public broadcaster also said it would scale back television sporting broadcasts and flagged the rationalisation of television outside broadcast vans, with other changes including proposals to downgrade Radio Newcastle to a regional station, and some programming cuts.

The sweeping cuts follow last week’s confirmation that the ABC will lose more than $250m of government funding over the next five years, with the broadcaster also planning a new regional division and a digital network to replace ABC Innovation.

Scott warned staff that more than 400 jobs would go “over the coming months” as it looked to reshape the organisation amid the funding cuts. At least 40 of those will be managerial positions, he said, adding it will “dismantle” its state and territory director structure.

“We regard the changes as vital to securing the long-term health of the organisation but I acknowledge that is no comfort to those who will lose their positions,” he said, adding “it is a very sad day for the ABC”.

The embattled ABC boss made a statement to staff today at the ABC’s Ultimo HQ, which has been closed to the public with heightened security presence, and will visit branches in each state and territory over the next fortnight to brief them on the changes and to field questions.

“The message I will convey, both internally and externally, over the next few weeks is that the ABC cannot stand still and run the risk of becoming less relevant and compelling to this and future generations,” he said.

“What we are doing today is in the best interests of the ABC and its many stakeholders. It is designed to position the organisation for the future. Working together, we can be confident in our ability to see through these changes and to build a stronger ABC.”

The five radio outposts to shut will be Wagin, Morwell, Gladstone, Port Augusta and Nowra. Scott said the sites “need continual maintenance” and stressed there would be no content implications.

Scott said there were “compelling business reasons” for the closure of the Adelaide TV studio and winding down of production in smaller sates, saying the economies of the TV sector made it “difficult to maintain small-scale operations”.

The ABC said 40 proposed projects would be drawn up aimed at transforming its operational base, which includes the creation of two new divisions and a $20 million digital investment fund.

“We lag behind other media in terms of our digital reach and penetration,” Scott admitted. “We need to make up ground quickly in terms of the money we devote to reinvestment.”

The ABC “must follow” where its audience is heading – to mobile and online, he said.

A new regional division will be created and operate from mid-2015 that will “harness the ABC’s skills, knowledge and infrastructure to better serve rural and regional communities” while ABC Digital Network will prioritise the ABC’s online and mobile expenditure.

Scott said said he Digital Network would ensure better research and the delivery of products and services that connect with a digital audience. Priorities will include an upgrade to iview, the exploration of video streaming and transaction-based services and the extension of radio streaming to regions.

The announcement also included details of proposed programming changes to ABC News, radio and television which will see the launch of a new national 7.30 program on Fridays to replace the current state editions.

Scott acknowledged there was “a level of debate around this proposal” but defended the move, arguing it was better to “focus on delivering more local news and analysis whenever it happens during the day rather than confining to Friday nights”.

ABC said Lateline will move to a new fixed timeslot on ABC News 24 and air later on ABC as a repeat, while a restructure of the ABC’s foreign bureaux will create multiplatform hubs and the opening of a Beirut post.

In addition, there will be changes to ABC local programming, Radio National and ABC Classic FM – including a decrease in the number of concerts recorded – along with an overhaul of ABC TV’s sports coverage that will see a greater focus on national sporting events.

“With the ABC facing declining audience interest in local sport competitions and some codes chasing commercial opportunities, ABC Television is revising its sports strategy to ensure the most cost-efficient use of resources and optimal audience impact,” Scott told staff.

Other changes will see the closure of more than 100 websites “to consolidate content into those sites which generate the most traffic”.

Scott said the raft of changes reflect a whole-of-ABC response to the challenges it faces.

“They recognise that programming cannot stay frozen and that our content divisions must regularly update their strategies and schedules; that audience dynamics drive reinvestment decisions and that repositioning necessitates tough decision-making and execution,” he said.

“Change is never easy for an institution that has so many stakeholders with a  passionate interest in its work. But change is now a media industry constant and the one guarantee I can offer you is that change will remain a reality for the ABC.”

ABC Chairman James Spigelman gave his backing to the shake-up, describing it as a “carefully considered response to the twin challenges of technological change and reduced funding”.

“They provide funds to invest in essential new online and mobile strategies that better connect the ABC with its audiences,” he said. “Like the best media companies across the globe, the ABC is using its digital expertise to achieve deeper and broader audience engagement and relevance.”

He expressed “regret” that “so many competent and loyal employees will lose their job” but added it was the “inevitable consequence of the necessity to adjust to reduced funding and to ensure that the ABC is not marginalised in the new media landscape”.

Read  Mark Scott’s full address to staff.

Steve Jones


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