The challenge for commercial digital media is to monetise audience: Mark Scott

After staying stoically quiet for months as commercial media kept telling him how to run the ABC, Mark Scott has now turned the tables, giving his commercial critics a lesson in where to apply their focus and why the ABC is not in direct competition with them.

In a piece pubished in Crikey, Scott has responded to the constant niggling, largely by the Murdoch press, telling commercial broadcasters that they should be thinking more about their bottom line than their audience numbers when it comes to the ABC’s digital expansion.

His key point is that the ABC does not compete for commercial revenue, so, no matter what the ABC’s audience, commercial operators are not losing out.

He says the ABC Act asks the ABC to be a “comprehensive broadcaster. It is not asked to provide only the content that commercial media would reject.”

Reaching back to the early days of ABC Radio, Mark Scott says:

The central tenet of the charter review argument is that the ABC’s “incursions” into the online space (there’s been an ABC presence since 1995) are making it difficult for commercial media companies. The front-page story of last Friday’s Australian on the ABC’s use of search engine marketing (who would have thought!) is very much in that vein.

It is essentially a rehash of the same Murdoch line used by Rupert’s father, Sir Keith, opposing the ABC’s entry into radio in the 1930s. The consistency of the criticism is matched by the consistency of the ABC response: remaining focused on the audience, with a clear sense of what is happening around us. Australia has always had a mixed model of public and commercial media — it’s the best means we have to deliver the best media service to the Australian public — and we believe it should be maintained.

The challenge for commercial digital media is not in finding audiences and attention, but in finding a way to monetise them. Does anyone seriously believe that if the ABC were not in the online and mobile space that this challenge would miraculously disappear? If the ABC is such a problem, why have new online players like The Guardian and the Daily Mail sensed a market opportunity and set up Australian bases?

Our online forum, The Drum, is simply an extension of the ABC’s years of experience in talkback radio. The Drum is as much a place for conversation, for Australians to exchange ideas with one another, as it is for opinion pieces that stimulate that conversation and debate…

With the ABC facing funding cuts, increasingly well-resourced competitors, and the challenges of reinvention faced by all media, Scott will need to continue to advocate on behalf of the national broadcaster to counter the attacks from its rivals.

In another example of such responses, the ABC has now released staff details for its Canberra operation in the face of criticism for being overstaffed in the national capital. A statement by the ABC says:

As of October 2014, the ABC had approximately 172 staff based in the ACT, equivalent to 160 FTEs. This includes 83 staff in editorial roles and 89 in support services. Support roles include directors, camera operators, editors, studio staff and technology and resources staff.

ACT employees work across five sites [including] The Northbourne Avenue office… and Parliament House… Within the Parliament House Bureau the ABC employs 56 staff, including 29 editorial positions and 27 support service positions. The Parliamentary Bureau is staffed seven days, from 4.30am to midnight on weekdays and from 6am to 7pm on weekends.

Its output is similar to that of Sky News, plus the newspaper mastheads, plus the commercial radio stations combined. Editorial staff file across hourly radio news bulletins, three daily radio current affairs programs, online news, TV News bulletins, ABC News 24, Radio National, Triple J, ABC Rural radio and online, 7.30 and Lateline. They also contribute to a raft of other ABC programs, including Insiders, National Press Club addresses and ABC local radio stations across the country.

The ABC hosts AM out of the Parliamentary radio studios and Capital Hill and Question Time out of the television studio. In addition, they service ABC stations around the country, offering content for our state, regional and rural audiences not covered by any other media outlet.

The statement goes on to refute accusations of a coverup of staff numbers.

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