Film & TV

Jun 24, 2014

Don’t panic, the ABC will be just fine

Peter Lewis has recommended outsourcing at the ABC, but that doesn't mean Aunty will be "gutted". It's time for the national broadcaster to embrace modern practice.

Glenn Dyer — <em>Crikey</em> business and media commentator

Glenn Dyer

Crikey business and media commentator

Do the highlights of the federal government-commissioned report outlined in the Fairfax Media tabloids, sorry, compacts, this morning really "gut" the ABC, as claimed in the headline? Or are they a mixture of current practice in TV around the world (including Australia) that haven't been fully explained by selective leaking? It's more of the latter. The report, written by former Seven West Media chief financial officer Peter Lewis, could save the ABC a lot of money and deliver it far more production flexibility and control. Some of the comments from the review into the ABC and SBS represent modern thinking among media companies, such as more use of rented and outsourced facilities, and buying programs from outside producers. Other suggestions include finding and creating new formats, drama ideas, and comedy programs that can last for a long time and generate income from sales and/or format fees, as Seven does. According to Fairfax:
"There is 'significant scope' for savings through increased use of external production studios rather than filming television programs internally, the review finds ... The ABC increasingly relies on programs purchased from the independent production sector, but still makes such signature programs as Spicks and Specks in-house ... The ABC has traditionally had a 'build and own it' culture that is out of step with the modern media, the review says."
It's all very BBC and ITV and CBS and Fox. These big foreign networks certainly source much of their programming needs from both inside and outside their organisations, as does the ABC (Dr Blake's Mysteries is one recent example and is the most successful Australian drama this year). SBS buys more from outside producers, such as the very successful local production Go Back To Where You Came From. ITV in the UK and the American networks produce programs for themselves and their rivals. Modern Family, seen here on Ten, is a Fox production broadcast on rival ABC in the US. Lewis is looking for that kind of flexibility, not to "gut" the network. The ABC can follow Seven's lead and use more outside staff for its in-house productions, with the creative teams being on-staff at the broadcaster. Seven does this by retaining the creative team of high-level producers, directors, writers. The remainder can be hired on what's called a "run of show" basis, meaning that if the program is successful, the people remain employed. Once the program ends, they either leave or can try for jobs in new programs. The stars/hosts and performers on these programs are hired on a "run of show" basis or for one-off roles, so why not production staff? The fear of many ABC insiders and others is that job losses would "gut" the ABC and cause it to lose TV know-how and experience. That's poppycock. There are plenty of people at the ABC who would be employed in independent production companies because of their skills and knowledge of how the ABC likes its programs made. The cost savings (so long as they are mostly retained by the ABC) could actually help the broadcaster invest in a slate of new ideas, both for TV, radio and online. Merging the ABC's iView and SBS on Demand is a good idea -- in fact, all the playback facilities of the commercial networks could be merged with the ABC's highly successful iView to create an industry standard. The commercial TV networks know the ABC leads them in this area, which is one of the main weapons the sector has for fighting the streaming companies.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t panic, the ABC will be just fine

  1. [email protected]

    Hhhmmm, much of what Glenn Dyer (and Peter Lewis) suggests the ABC should do are done by the broadcaster already. It’s been common place for more than 20 years for the ABC to use outside contractors on in-house programs. I worked on in-house programs for six years straight in the ’90s, and for the entire time I was a run-of-season contractor. There were many of us. It’s gobsmacking how people who have only worked in commercial TV come up with these supposedly brilliant ideas as if they haven’t been thought of and executed already.
    For significantly less than a billion dollars a year, the ABC delivers multiple radio and TV networks, a multi-platform news & current affairs service with correspondents in bureaux across the globe plus an incredibly rich online offering. There is no way a commercial broadcaster could produce as much content for this relatively small amount of money. Yes, it’s always possible to trim costs and find more efficient ways of doing things – try finding any large organisation where that is not the case – but that has been an ongoing project at the ABC for decades, as its greatly reduced head count over the years attests.

  2. zut alors

    By comparison ABC’s existence is safe whereas the Abbott government’s is not.

  3. SusieQ

    There are too many vested interests who want the ABC to fail/be privatised/gutted – all have way to much influence with the current government. (Murdoch, IPA for starters)
    Outsource by all means, especially if it means less repeats of the same old programs (QI and Grand Designs anyone?).

  4. HB

    Key for me in the above is the statement “The costs savings (as long as they are mostly retained by the ABC)….”. My level of distrust is pretty high here! I also don’t take the Seven network as a model of quality television production.

  5. The Old Bill

    Yep, outsourcing is the way to go folks. Saves heaps of money and has a good track record of doing so.

    TAFE fired and then outsourced here in SA many years ago and still does. I now know ex TAFE employees who are doing the same job at three times the cost of their original saleries. Luckily one is my partner and she can now claim her car, phone, etc. etc. as a tax deduction as she is “self employed.” Result, taxpayer pays more and one taxpayer pays much less.

    Then of course there is the privatisation or outsourcing of water and power__ but lets not go there shall we? Some of us can no longer afford essential services now they are so cheap and efficient due to cost savings.

  6. Itsarort

    What sensational ideas. Channel 7 is such a fine exemplary model of puerile twaddle, I can’t wait till Aunty follows suit! OK I get it now, this is actually satire based on Chaser type humour. So we can expect to see some dog rooting images in the follow-up article I suppose…?

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