Distribution partnerships ‘the future’ for ABC, says new MD Michelle Guthrie

The ABC’s newly-appointed managing director, Michelle Guthrie, warned this morning that the national broadcaster is not immune from the effects of digital disruption, citing new partnerships and distribution models with the likes of Netflix as potential remedies for the ABC’s funding model.

Speaking at The Australian’s Creative Country conference in Melbourne, Guthrie addressed the “savage downsizing” of many media companies in response to a rapidly shifting, increasingly digital media landscape and the need to find innovative avenues to increase revenue.

Guthrie stated: “I also dispute the notion that the ABC is in any way ‘safe’. My experience across a range of organisations here and overseas is that no one is protected in this volatile environment. Neither competitors nor customers will give any company a pass to longevity.

“Legacy media business models still provide the majority of revenues for many companies, making change extremely difficult. There is another dynamic at play. Never before have consumers been so empowered. The power shift has been abrupt and absolute.”

Pressing the necessity of catering to the consumption habits of younger audiences in response to this shift, Guthrie indicated that under her guidance partnerships with major distributors may be on the cards for the ABC.

“The idea that the customer has to come and find you and must play solely within your boundaries is now obsolete,” she said. “Consumers want a seamless, networked universe. If they go to Netflix, why shouldn’t they find ABC content?

“Partnering also offers potential new revenue streams to fund new content investment – welcome after recent years of declining retail returns and government funding.”

Anticipating criticism from the public, Guthrie clarified that “the ABC’s strategies in relation to revenue and partnering will be done fully in accordance with the ABC’s legislative obligations and in line with community expectations.”

Guthrie also addressed concerns that she might seek to change the ABC charter to allow opportunities for advertising by categorically ruling it out.

“I have no desire to push for a change in the charter to allow advertising on our services,” she said.

In addition to innovating digital strategies Guthrie also voiced her commitment to increasing diversity on the ABC, refuting detractors’ claims she is: “removing many well-loved, existing faces and voices from our screens and airwaves”.

Data collected by PWC revels that the average media industry worker is “27, male, Caucasian, living in Bondi, Newtown, St Kilda or Richmond.” Contrasting this with Australia’s demographic reality, in which 48% are either born overseas or second-generation Australians, Guthrie voiced concern that the public broadcaster represents and serves only a small proportion of the public.

“The ABC can and must offer distinctive and relevant content – not just to the under 12s and to the over 45s, but to all Australians. There is no reason why its reach should be less than 100%.”


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