In his first appearance before the Senate estimates committee since early March, ABC Managing Director David Anderson told Senators:
“The ABC has risen to the challenge and done what our audiences expect of us… In these difficult times we’ve also been a much-needed source of entertainment.”
Anderson’s appearance at Senate Estimates coincided with the release of the ABC’s Annual Report, which revealed overall radio and audio listening figures.
Of all the ABC’s digital properties, the ABC Listen App had the highest consumption by time, with audiences spending an average of 230 minutes per week consuming ABC Listen and an additional 87 minutes consuming Triple J’s online content. This compares with the ABC Kids app, which averages 95 minutes and ABC iView, which had 80 hours per week of viewing. The ABC had over 14 million visitors to all its digital properties in 2019-20. A podcast study by University of Canberra, also released this week, found that ABC LIsten was the 4th most used podcast platform in Australia, behind Youtube, Spotify and Apple.
Streaming of Local Radio was up 25% on last year, while consumption of the ABC listen app jumped 63% year-on-year.
Satisfaction with the ABC as a whole was generally up, however satisfaction with ABC Radio has gone down cmpared with past years.
Average weekly reach in the five-city metropolitan markets for ABC Radio (including DAB+ stations) was 5.1 million people aged 10+. in 2019-20, up 198,000 listeners on the 2018-19 result. Audience share was up 0.4 share points on 2018-19 to 23.5%. 59% of Australians believed the quality of programming on ABC Radio was ‘Very Good’ or ‘Good’.
ABC’s DAB+ stations include Double J, ABC Jazz, triple j Unearthed, ABC Grandstand, ABC Country and ABC Kids listen. Average weekly reach in the five-city metropolitan markets for ABC DAB+ stations was 728,000 in 2019-20, down 4.7% on 2018-19. Audience share of total listening was 1.5%, stable on the 1.6% of the previous year.
ABC Local Radio’s five-city metropolitan average weekly reach was 2 million, up 4.4% from 1.9 million in 2018-19. Audience share was 8.5%, up 0.2 points on 2018-19 (8.3%). There were 70 million unique podcast downloads of ABC Local Capital Cities content in 2019-20, up 20% compared to 2018-19.
ABC’s national youth network triple j recorded increases in broadcast audiences in 2019-20. Five-city metropolitan average weekly reach among people aged 10+ was 2.1 million in 2019-20, up from 2018-19 (1.9 million). Audience share was 6.3%, steady with 2018-19. triple j recorded a total of 19 million unique podcast downloads in 2019-20, down 2% compared with 2018-19.58
RN’s five-city metropolitan average weekly reach was 707,000 in 2019-20, up 9.6% on the 2018-19 result of 645,000. Audience share was 2.6% in 2019-20, steady on 2018-19. RN recorded a total of 83 million unique podcast downloads in 2019-20, up 10% compared with 2018-19.
ABC Classic’s five-city metropolitan average weekly reach was 826,000 in 2019-20, up from 744,000 in 2018-19. Audience share was steady in 2019-20 at 3.0%, compared with 2.9% in 2018-19.
ABC NEWS’ five-city metropolitan average weekly reach was 778,000 in 2019-20, up 8.5% from 718,000 in 2018-19. Audience share remained relatively steady at 1.6%. There were 49 million unique downloads of ABC NEWS podcasts in 2019-20, up significantly compared to 2018-19.
Internationally, ABC Radio Australia reached over 400,000 people across the Pacific. 28 million ABC Podcasts were heard by international listeners and 10 million live radio streams were consumed by international listeners.
The news and current affairs programs on Local Radio and RN reached on average, 1.7 million people aged 10+ each week in the five-city metropolitan market in 2019-20. This was up 3.5% on 2018-19.
The ABC failed to Display all its digital radio stations separately in the annual report graphic, missing an opportunity to show the migration and growth of audiences to the new DAB+ platform, however, it did count all ABC Radio services in its overall figures (see graphs below)
The report revealed that 70% of ABC employees are involved in content making and that NSW was the state with the highest number of staff. The Regional and Local division had 21% of overall staff.
Commenting on the recent loss of staff to redundancies, Anderson told Senators: “We are still in the process of farewelling 229 colleagues, employees from across all divisions and teams who have made significant contributions… They leave with our heartfelt thanks and best wishes for the future. As so many Australian businesses have experienced in 2020, losing good people is never welcome or easy.”
The ABC Annual Report outlines the way the national broadcaster has responded to changing technology and audience needs. Digital services are “now the primary means by which many people access news, entertainment and information,” said the report.
“Today’s audiences want content that appeals to their lifestyle, interests and behaviours, and is easy and convenient to access. The ABC is responding to the significant transition to greater personalised digital experiences with an evolving range of offerings across its platforms and products, enabling audiences to discover and access the most relevant content to watch, listen to, or read.”
To meet digital update needs, ABC News has established the Audio Hub by pairing network radio producers and presenters with the NewsRadio team, allowing News to triple the number of on-demand in-brief news bulletins available for smart speaker devices. It also improved the quality and consistency of the national radio news bulletins, which are regularly the number one on-demand item on the ABC listen app.
Audio on-demand local bulletins were launched in six regional areas – Gippsland, North Queensland, South West WA, Great Southern, South East SA, and Riverina. The bulletins were distributed on the ABC listen app as well as through smart speakers, and the initiative is now set to be rolled out across all ABC regional bureaux.
In stats quoted in the report, 58% of Australians believed the quality of programming on ABC Radio was ‘good’, while 56% of the population believed that commercial radio offered good quality programming. When asked about their usage of the ABC website and online services, the vast majority (92%) believed the quality of content was ‘good’, with 41% of ABC online users rating the quality as ‘very good’.
78% of Australian adults aged 18-75 years trust the information that the ABC provides: significantly higher than the levels of trust recorded for internet search engines such as Google (70%), Commercial Radio (60%), Commercial TV (59%), Newspaper publishers (58%) and Facebook (35%).
In this year of uncertainty Australians have turned to “voice they can trust,” according to Anderson:
- In the latest radio ratings survey, ABC radio achieved its highest reach since 2004.
- ABC TV and iview have both grown reach, with live ABC News streaming key to this.
- ABC News digital has reached new heights: number one across all demographics, with engagement up 80% compared to 2019.
- The ABC NEWS website was Australia’s top digital news site in September for the ninth consecutive month.
- ABC Kids reaches 62% of 0-4s weekly.
The ABC increased its advertising expenditure from $2.7 million in the previous year to $5.5 million.
Commenting on the Australian Federal Police action against ABC journalist Dan Oakes over his reporting of allegations about Australian soldiers committing war crimes in Afghanistan, Anderson said “the matter should have never gone so far.”
“It is more than three years since the ABC published The Afghan Files … in that time, great resources and efforts have been wasted pursuing the confidential source of stories that were accurate and clearly in the public interest.”