ABC Radio will be where our audiences are: Michael Mason

What is ahead for ABC Radio in 2016?
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.  This year will be all about finding new audiences, across all platforms and networks, and being smarter about the ways in which ABC Radio engages with them.

In this article for radioinfo, Director of ABC Radio, Michael Mason, outlines his priorities for the division in the year ahead.



We already connect with communities in all sorts of ways beyond traditional broadcasting – via community events, national, international and grassroots charities and issues, outside broadcasts, and of course through talkback on air and via social media. 
But to remain integral and relevant to the lives of millions of Australians into the future, we must nurture the existing connections, and forge relationships with new audiences.
ABC Radio will be where our audiences are
Our progress into digital and multiplatform content has been deliberate and strategic, in a series of moves designed to get us to where our audiences are.
Five years ago we had: no digital radio stations on air, no apps, limited use of social media, limited design and development capability and outdated radio websites.
Now we have a flexible, accessible content offering that appeals to younger and broader audiences, not least because of the fluidity of our online platforms and apps.
Crucially, it’s an offering that follows audiences wherever they want to go.Everyone now has a radio in their pocket; our flagship app, the ABC Radio player has been designed around that concept.
We improved the Radio player in 2015 and we want to keep building on it. Our priorities for 2016 are to get better at identifying personal preferences, and offer listening that’s better matched to interests and lifestyle. We also want to build in increased shareability for social media platforms.
And whatever we do for the Radio player, we want it to be seamlessly integrated into the connected car of the future. If 31% of radio listening takes place in the car, we need to contribute to a frictionless experience that replicates listener experience between house, device and vehicle, and we’re working with industry to ensure that our offering is pitch perfect.

At the ABC, we have the enormous benefit of working cross-divisionally to open multiple gateways to new audiences. Across the organisation, we are constantly thinking about more intelligent ways to reach more people.
We do our bit in radio by enabling the rest of the ABC access to the huge youth audience that triple j brings in. Local Radio – local, live and linear – acts as a vital “town square” which lets the wider ABC talk to its metropolitan communities. And Classic FM and RN create pathways across the ABC to audiences who seek genre specialisation in the expertise they offer – music, the arts, science, health and religion.
That’s why we recently integrated ABC Health and ABC Science online into RN; it’s now the powerhouse of ideas, specialisation, critical enquiry and contemporary thinking at the ABC.
What’s more, we want to turn RN into a production hub and a content creation powerhouse – not just for ABC Radio but for the rest of the ABC.
ABC Radio will look and sound like Australia
We aim to have a workforce and a talent base that truly represents the diversity of the Australian population.
We’re committed to increasing the diversity of both our staff and our talent base, and we’ve made a strong start in 2016 by realigning the gender balance of our presenter base. We’re incorporating diversity objectives into the commissioning of new content projects, rolling out diversity training and we have committed Diversity Action and Indigenous Reference groups.
But it’s crucial not to catalogue diversity into a series of boxes to be progressively ticked off to make ourselves feel like we’ve achieved something. We want to promote and celebrate the diversity of ABC Radio and its audiences, without necessarily shouting about “diversity” with trumpets and heraldry.  
As This American Life’s Stephanie Foo has said in an excellent article for Transom, “’Pretty saris!’ or ‘Diwali!’ are not stories. Waltzing into a wedding, festival or celebration, rhapsodizing about how colourful, exotic and fragrant everything is and getting some quotes about what the incense symbolizes — that is not a story.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Diversity should be a watermark of an organisation, not a checklist. We have a way to go before it’s as integrated as it should be, but in the next few years we will demonstrate real cultural and gender equity across content-making, operations, administration, and management.   
ABC Radio will build its capacity as a world-leading audio production house
Much has been made of the podcasting boom – with eyes firmly on the US juggernauts of Serial and This American Life. Certainly, Serial heralded a dramatic shift in the perception of podcasting.
Audiences all over the world realised that, rather than merely offering catch-up on linear content, or a niche-market echo chamber for audio nerds, podcasts could bring us storytelling that was monumental in its ambition, all-encompassing in its appeal and totally absorbing in its execution.

However, while there are good reasons for all eyes to be on the US, there is a huge amount to be excited by in Australian podcasting. Last year we reached record numbers with 135 million streams and downloads.
But there’s increasing dialogue in the industry about the real value of a podcast; how we position catch-up podcasts compared to how we use the platform to incubate new voices and new stories, or even showcase entire genres that don’t have a linear broadcast platform.
So we want to strengthen our position as the Australian centre of podcasting – the home of globally recognised and celebrated digital content, which delivers on a local stage to global audiences.

Overall, we want to make the most of the extraordinary privilege that we hold, the opportunity to share Australian lives.
As radiomakers, we can speak more intimately, more cogently and more fluently to its audiences than any other medium.  This intimacy allows us to connect more deeply with audiences, to bring issues into the light, to normalise them by talking about them. It’s a unique and special position.
We must continue to offer Australians the opportunity to have their voices heard – to express their views, their hopes, their concerns, and to see the world through others’ eyes. 

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