ABC says $10,000 figure wrong. The ABC has hit back at claims it shouldn’t be spending money through Google to boost its online traffic, after an article in The Australian claimed it had spent $10,000 a month in August on buying up ads to appear on Google search terms. The article, by Oz media editor Sharri Markson, also quoted a range of commercial media operators who decried the competition the ABC was providing in the area, arguing that they needed the traffic more than it did.

In a statement to Crikey this morning, the ABC’s marketing manager Leisa Bacon described Google search advertising as the “modern day equivalent of listing your programs in a newspaper TV guide”.

Bacon also disputed the $10,000 figure quoted in The Australian, telling Crikey the actual August figure spent on such advertising is “about one tenth of this”.

“Every organisation with a marketing budget operates in this space, including other public broadcasters like the BBC and including other government agencies. A search for diabetes services for example will take you to an ad for a government funded diabetes organisation,” Bacon said.

“The ABC invests in Australian stories, content and conversations, often when others may not. We demonstrated this recently through our Mental Health initiative. In an increasingly fragmented media environment we need to help our audiences find and access these stories. In addition, the ABC have a rich archive of content built over many years, across all our platforms. It’s of huge benefit to the public to be able to continue to access this, and to find the things they are interested in. In a digital environment, search is critical to help navigate this…

The Australian has also ignored the feature we now carry on all our news sites, links to other media outlets covering the same issue. The ABC does this because it recognises it is part of a wider media ecosystem and access to a breadth of content is of benefit to our audience.”

In her report, Markson wrote that the ABC responded only briefly to detailed questions sent to it about its online spend. Crikey has obtained a copy of Markson’s nine questions to the ABC, sent at 2.30pm yesterday. The email reveals Markson first asked the ABC about buying search terms in July. In her email yesterday, she asked detailed questions about when the ABC had started buying ads with Google, how much the ABC spends with Google, whether the ABC had started buying ads in April, whether the ABC was spending $10,000 a month with Google, whether or not the ABC was paying $3 a click-through for its ad on the day of Gough Whitlam’s passing, whether the ABC had a problem “spending money with Google when it doesn’t pay much tax in Australia”, and whether the ABC was “deliberately trying to drive traffic away from commercial media organisations.”

“Isn’t this a ruthless and ungenerous attitude by the ABC?”, Markson asked. As she said in her piece, she got only a brief response from the ABC: “The ABC advertises its programming on a range of platforms, including online. The aim of such advertising is to increase awareness of ABC services.”

Crikey asked the ABC why it didn’t respond to Markson’s request for confirmation on the $10,000 figure. A spokesman said generally it’s ABC policy not to comment on such matters. — Myriam Robin

More on that. For more than 40 years, News Limited (as it was then) newspapers and magazines were delighted to take the ABC’s money for display advertising pointing to new programming on the national broadcaster. They had no difficulty pocketing those millions of dollars to run ads that promoted ABC on-air content that was in direct competition with the commercial networks.

So what’s changed? The difference then was that with the exception of his brief controlling interest in Channel Ten, Rupert Murdoch had no significant electronic media interests. Now, with News Corp desperate to secure a dominant share of the online market, its principles have conveniently changed.

Markson is outraged. “The Australian can reveal that the ABC outspent all but one other news service on search engine marketing in August”. Why is the August figure singled out? We’re not told. And who was the “all but one other news service” who outspent the ABC? Come on, Sharri, you can tell us. Surely not News Online? — former Media Watch executive producer David Salter

Musical chairs. Foodie types feared the worst when Epicure restaurant reviewer Larissa Dubecki’s column didn’t appear in the liftout two weeks ago. Had Fairfax cut into its foodie division yet again? Crikey didn’t have time to get very far in our inquiries before we were quickly relieved to see Dubecki’s byline appearing in Time Out, where she’s the new reviewer. Meanwhile Time Out‘s old food reviewer Gemima Cody has taken Dubecki’s old job at Epicure. Guess both wanted a chance of scenery … — Myriam Robin

Leaks lift Ten. You can rely on the ASX and corporate authorities to do nothing to impede media merger talks, if they are happening. A sweeping statement, I know, but just take a look at the way the shares in the struggling Ten Network jumped 36% in the past week, with not one query from the ASX or an “‘ello, ‘ello, what do we ‘ave ‘ere then?” from the plodders at ASIC.

Ten shares closed at 24.5 cents yesterday on the ASX, a week ago they touched an all time low of 18 cents when the poor 2013-14 results came out. But that weak effort has been forgotten amid more merger talk, leaked to The Australian Financial Review, and the Murdoch clan’s family newsletter, The Australian. The AFR had Anchorage Capital of New York chatting to another US investor in Providence Equity Partners (linked to Lachlan Murdoch in the past) about a possible joint deal for Ten.

And then we had a leak to the Oz’s inhouse Murdoch publicist, Darren Davidson, in the paper’s Media section on Monday, linking Fairfax Media and Ten in possible talks. That sent the Ten shares bounding ahead as the day traders and desperados among local hedge funds bailed in to get set for the big deal. Fairfax shares rose, then fell as it became apparent to the market that any deal for cash-strapped, indebted Ten would be a company-destroying effort — as Fairfax’s takeover of Rural Press a few years ago came close to sinking the venerable publishing (but much diminished) empire.

Unless the ASX or ASIC strike first (and that’s a big if), Fairfax won’t have to say anything until the AGM in Melbourne on November 6 (which Stephen Mayne is attending). He will also be attending (and standing as a board candidate) at Ten in early December. If nothing is said until Mayne asks a question at Fairfax and or Ten, that will be a travesty of the so-called “continuous disclosure” both companies sign up to while listed on the ASX. — Glenn Dyer

Front page of the day. Bloomberg Businessweek questions Obama’s approach to crisis management …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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