ABC Radio: Eyes and Ears on 2020

Michael Mason addresses the troops

In 2015 ABC Radio consolidated its new structure, following the creation of ABC Regional and the subsequent move of more than 40 regional radio stations into that division. 

2016 has been all about finding new audiences, across all platforms and networks, and being smarter about the ways in which ABC Radio engages with them.

In his recent newsletter to staff Director of ABC Radio, Michael Mason has provided an update on his strategy as the ABC heads toward 2020.

“Dear Colleagues,​

Before we get into Commissioning for 2017, I wanted to give you the update I promised on our current planning and strategy, so together we can work towards the ABC’s and our own 2020 goals.

Our audience numbers are strong and we have passionate, committed staff determined to deliver the best for the community. But we do not operate in a vacuum. The media sector is grappling with the disruptive impact of new technologies and convergence and we, along with the other content divisions, face major challenges in retaining those audiences and ensuring relevance over the coming decades.

We need to combine our content knowledge with our expanding digital skills, delivering programming that is more accessible, reaches new audiences and has a longer life. I am confident that our future will be secured if we make clear strategic moves to build swiftly on the foundations of ABC Radio’s 2020 plan, launched earlier this year.

Our goals:

The plan, which closely aligns with the work being done in other divisions, sets a goal of ‘all audio’ reach of 50% by 2020, meaning one in two Australians should be using our services every week. Given the MD’s ambition, endorsed by the Board, is that the ABC should be reaching all Australians in some way every day, this is the contribution ABC Radio needs to make.

However, the reality is that we do not expect to significantly build on our current ambition for 36.5% reach via linear programming. The upside for audience growth will come from our digital content offerings and competitive digital platforms. Our goal is for 1 billion downloads per annum by 2020.

We need to invest in this digital future. That means committing to an annual savings goal of 2%, using that money for digital investment and other 2020 priorities, while continuing to meet our charter obligations to provide distinctive, quality content.

The strategy provides a sharper focus on our activities and our investment needs. We need to identify where we are over servicing some audiences and under-achieving in others. The focus will be on:

·         Continued strength in 18-24’s through a vibrant triple j
·         A better, broader proposition for the 35-50 demographic with a new Local Radio strategy, a refreshed Grandstand, and continued development of Double J
·         Deeper and more frequent community engagement in our cities and suburbs
·         An ‘Ideas Network’ that provides engaging, accessible specialist content, and genre experts across a wide range of platforms and channels
·         Stronger support for kids (and their parents) through the Kids Audio project
·         An appealing and approachable Australian classical music network
·         A more targeted approach to Current Affairs that avoids duplication and provides a better value-add for audiences
·         World class digital products and distribution into cars, pockets and homes, providing a more personalized mobile radio experience
·         A well-developed diversity program that makes our staff and our programs more reflective of a modern Australia.

Future focus:

We’ve been looking at our future through three lenses.

·         The ABC Audience Strategy, which involves better collaboration across platforms and divisions to reach 
audiences in that 15 to 50 age bracket; genre specialization; localism and making it easy to find our content in the digital space. 
·         The ongoing need for operational efficiency to remain sustainable
·         Upholding our charter obligations to provide distinctive, quality content.

We framed our thinking around these challenges through five key pillars, and have been working with all parts of the ABC to develop our planning.

These pillars are:

1.      Foundations: We need to get the essentials right. It is clear that that we have a lot of work to do if we are to meet our diversity commitment to really look and sound like contemporary Australia. Transmission is a major challenge. Every week we spend a significant amount of money on distributing our content and it does not properly align with our services and our audience demands.
2.      Continuous improvement: The core principles of how we make radio haven’t changed for a long time. We need to end the culture of siloed business areas, reduce duplication and get better at surfacing and sharing content that will work across different platforms. We also need more efficient accommodation.
3.      Transformation: We must ensure vibrant and vital futures for our genres and brands, with a particular strong focus on RN, Capital City, Sport, the growth opportunities for Classic FM, our current affairs content and how we record and program music. That means difficult but necessary decisions to ensure our content offer and delivery are aligned to audience needs and expectations.
4.      Audience Breakthrough: We want to lead in developing new platforms and experiences, including a more personalized app, better ways for the audience to generate content, the connected car and increased collaboration on comedy and audio for kids. We also want to develop clear strategies and initiatives for community-generated content.
5.  Enterprise: Like our colleagues across the ABC, we want to take advantage of reasonable opportunities to monetize and offset the cost of our activities and to extend the offering to the widest audience possible. We want to explore business-to-business opportunities, including production partnerships, and how we might use our genre expertise to tap into the growing events market.

In regards to our specific platforms and brands:

RN has a shining future, and deserves a larger audience.  We need to explore ways that RN can remain relevant on linear platforms while continuing its growth in the digital space.  One of our priorities is to get better at surfacing and sharing its quality genre specialist content, shifting more from linear to digital platforms and driving new audiences, not only to the network, but to the wider ABC slate. 

We are looking at RN’s genre specialism, its ability to produce world-class topical content and its capacity to be a specialist production house for the rest of the ABC.

Our Capital City network is an audience powerhouse.  But traditional audience essentials – traffic, sport, news and weather – can now be accessed without turning the radio on. So we need to find the new “essentials”.  How are we going to ensure that we’re central for the busy, working urban families who want to connect with their communities?

I want us to think hard about building capacity to work across Cap City networks, working on high-quality, 4Corners type investigations that would really uncover and share the complex, long-term stories of our cities in a way that no one else can.

We need to look closely at our Sport offering. It’s one of the passions of our Capital City audiences and it’s something our listeners love; we think we serve them well but it’s an extremely competitive market and one in which the rights are shifting.

We need to collaborate with News to achieve our stated ambition – delivering distinctivecurrent affairs reporting and analysis.  We want more agile staff and resources and greater diversity of content to meet the increasing audience appetite for CAFF content on-demand. 

The ABC Classic FM aspiration is to build its presence as the dynamic leader in classical music . We want the network to build even closer production ties with the music industry and evolve its partnerships with the orchestras, with a collaborative focus on the gems in our live performance schedule. 

The live music review is complete and is currently being assessed.

For the triple j brands, the challenge is to keep building on the massive success of triple j and Hack, and to leverage the success of Double J as an audience bridge between triple j and our other music platforms.
ABC Radio is a real strength of the ABC. Its proud history, its connection with audiences and its ability to evolve and adapt make it pivotal to the community’s acceptance and support of the role of a national broadcaster.

But a defensive mindset and a belief that the ABC will flourish regardless of the industry and competition will not work. There is much to be done if we are to stay as connected to audiences in 2020 as we are today.
It’s important to set up the foundations and the systems now, so that content makers and managers can make the right decisions for the future. As you know, we’ve re-structured the senior team to help us meet these goals and the one outstanding role, that of the new Head, Spoken, will be announced shortly. We’ll be advertising the role of Manager, Capital Local, very soon. 

Over the next few weeks, the Radio Executive and Local Managers will talk in detail about our 2020 initiatives and how they impact on your work areas. I encourage you to attend and embrace the opportunity to make the ABC Radio strategy a success.”




Tags: | | |