Having successfully silenced the public broadcaster’s critics and placed its program makers on notice with the release of a new editorial policy, the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott might now want to turn his attention to more mundane matters – such as just where all the money goes.

Crikey understands that a management-commissioned consultant’s report, aimed at benchmarking the ABC’s transmission and distribution operations against those of other public broadcasters around the world, produced something other than the result it was hoping for.

So much so that the ABC’s Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), has been quietly crowing to its political masters about just how efficient it is compared to Down Under.

According to the Canadians, the ABC-commissioned report indicates the ABC is spending some 21% or around $200 million of its annual budget on the transmission and distribution of its signal.

CBC – which has similar obligations to provide almost universal coverage across the country of its signal – spends just 5% of its annual budget or about $75 million by comparison.

This despite the fact it distributes 27 regional feeds in English and French compared to the ABC’s five feeds. The nearest competitor to the ABC is South Africa’s SABC which spends around 11% or $68 million to transmit and distribute its broadcast signals around the nation.

The biggest single recipient of the ABC’s taxpayer funds is the Macquarie Bank-owned Broadcast Australia, which takes an estimated $125- $130 million a year from the ABC to transmit its signals in what are widely acknowledged by industry insiders as prime examples of “overcharged and under-serviced” contract arrangements.

The Singapore-owned Optus is also a major recipient of the remaining balance of funds pegged for transmission and distribution. Admittedly, the ABC inherited some of these arrangements after the Federal Government’s privatisation of the National Transition Agency in 1999, and was locked into ten-year deals on far from favourable commercial terms.

Still, on the basis of the benchmarking analysis, Scott may have room to put his commercial savvy to use and come up with savings which might better be used to fund more programming.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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