There is no mass media now: ABC’s Michelle Guthrie

In a major speech to The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne last night, ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie outlined the direction for the ABC in the era of social and mobile media.

She also revealed a series of changes on the way for ABC Radio and ABC News, as revealed earlier by radioinfo.

Guthrie said: “There is no mass media now.

“Different demographics congregate around different platforms. Media companies that try to corral all their audiences in one place or who rely on “loyalty” to keep them there do so at their peril.But even in a fragmented market place, it is possible to carry issues and stories across audiences and, as a media company, to retain broad relevance.”

What is needed in this fragmented, rapidly evolving media landscape are a number of skills, including: Dexterity, Diversity and Collaboration, she said.

On changing audience consumption habits, Guthrie explained:

There is a temptation to see the media revolution through the eyes of one demographic – the millennials. But we all know that the three foundations of new media use are applicable to age groups across the spectrum. Those foundations are:

    searchable, on-demand access to content

    anywhere and anytime communications; and

    the ability to convert media into shareable, transportable and easily edited chunks.

If you take someone who is under the age of forty today, they have spent their entire adult life with the internet, technology that went mainstream in 1995.

The use of mobile phones exploded in the years that followed the widespread use of internet technology. By the time our 40-year old+s turned 18, the MP3 revolution, driven by Napster, was in full swing and redefining the music landscape.

The technologies that followed — broadband, smartphones and tablets, video-on-demand and social media — simply served to extend these foundations.

And why do we here today care about all this?…

Audience consumption habits are crossing genre boundaries and as a result the ways in which people are receiving and consuming news have also changed.

According to Reuters Institute, in 2013, 72% of people reported that they had used television in the last week as a source of news. In 2016, that figure has declined to 66%.

So where are people increasingly going to receive their daily news?

The Reuters Institute reports that in 2016, 64% of 18 to 24-year-olds predominantly get their news from online sources, including social media.

The ABC’s own data tells a similar story.

Since 2014, the ABC has seen:

    a 49% increase in ABC news and current affairs monthly plays on iview; and

    a 51% increase in ABC News monthly plays on our YouTube channel.

Audiences are also increasingly consuming news content on their mobiles. In 2016, over half of all Australians use their mobile phones to access news each week, while desktop news browsing has flat-lined.

On the topic of whether the ABC should stick to old platforms, Guthrie was clear in her rejection of this position:

My message is a direct one. I am aware of arguments that ABC News should stick to its flagship programs and limit its digital investment because:

    That is where its point of difference lies

    Digital strategies pander to a wider audience and dilute investment in the flagships, and

    Digital should be left to the marketplace with the ABC concentrating on market failure activities.

I reject each of these arguments.

Digital is embedded in the ABC Charter and the public expects the national broadcaster to use its ingenuity to find new ways to make its content available to audiences. It has done so from its origins in the 1930s and will continue to do so….

The ABC cannot be frozen in time, no matter how much some stakeholders would like it to be. Our commitment to quality cannot be measured through a line by line defence of every program.

She launched a facebook messenger news service in her speech, telling the audience: “One very exciting way we are collaborating to reach our audiences is through the launch of a dedicated news service with third-party provider Chatfuel and available on Facebook Messenger which goes live in time for the Melbourne Cup next week.”

Guthrie also focussed on the ABC’s core mission, but reinforced that she will be  driving change in the national broadcaster: “We must defend the core missions behind our content. But to resist change means: we would be locking ourselves away from new audiences, we would be tying up funds in areas of overlap or duplication, and we would be committing ourselves to ever declining reach and relevance.”


Part of the changes will come in the form of new ABC Radio website designs. Read our radioinfo analysis of the new design here.

Listen to Guthrie’s full speech in this Wheeler Centre podcast below.

View the full text of the speech here.



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