[LINK] Content and competition in a changing media world

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Wed Nov 30 03:31:48 AEDT 2011

A worthwhile read. This is an edited text of a speech given by the 
managing director of the ABC, Mark Scott, today to the 2011 Walkley 
Conference in Brisbane ...

'Content and competition in a changing media world'

'There is now a need to create content that can hold its own against 
competition of remarkable scale.'

The Drum By ABC's Mark Scott. Posted November 25, 2011 15:28:56 

Talking with an old colleague of mine from Fairfax a little while back, I 
was reminded that the Sydney Morning Herald was making millions of 
dollars of profit every week 10 years ago - but that this year, it may be 
lucky to make any profit at all.

We all know how it happened - the collapsing business model. Audiences 
luxuriating in free online content from around the world. The classified 
migration. The new options for display advertisers.

What is significant about it, in hindsight, is that you could see it all 
happening at the time.

And perhaps some of it was allowed to happen. Because a decade ago, the 
internet was with us, fast broadband was coming and the signs were all 

And the debate a decade ago, after the tech bubble of the late '90s had 
popped, was all about time and scale. How much time would we have? Were 
the predictions overstated? Wouldn't the new markets inevitably settle 
around the old players?

But when you are making so much money, there is so much to lose. And that 
money, that profit, those audiences that you are holding - there is a 
security that comes with all that, which makes you think there will be 
time to do all you need to do. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

This year in Australia, we have seen the single biggest drop in audiences 
for the main television channels that they have experienced in 50 years. 
Fortunately for the broadcasters, that audience has largely migrated to 
the new free-to-air multi-channels created for digital television.

But look at those audiences move.

Look at those habits change.

Look at people embrace new choices that more appropriately match what 
they've discovered they want.

For the best part of 50 years, five channels was just fine.

But not any more.

At the ABC, we have done some extensive work this year on what the media 
landscape looks like 10 years from now - with ubiquitous fast broadband, 
seamless global release of content, vast archival availability, countless 
entertainment sources and a totally personalised viewing schedule.

Of course we don't know precisely what 2021 looks like, but we would be 
in denial if we didn't get a real sense of it, just from what we can see 
now. I would hope that what we've learned over the past decade at least 
is that "business as usual" until the future does take shape and is here 
doesn't really qualify as a strategy. Delay, like denial, is dangerous.

The audience watching catch-up television through the ABC's iview is 10 
times what is was less than three years ago - and our research suggests 
only a third of the Australian public knows what it is. Its potential 
growth is enormous.

Every month, new opportunities are being created to watch iview on big 
screen television - through devices like Fetch-TV and the X-BOX. And most 
TVs being sold now have broadband connections, allowing easy access to 
internet content through a television experience.

We can see that streaming and downloads will kill the video store. But 
what does that broadband connection mean for broadcasters?

At my own media test lab called "home", I watch my daughters store 
programs they want to watch, have content downloaded on demand and 
totally individualise their viewing experience.

And if you are still asking what's on television tonight, you are just 
showing your age.

It's what you've got to show, not how and when it is shown, that is the 
real game.

Television has been a wonderful platform for so many years. Aggregating 
vast audiences, who really had nowhere else to go. Yet, more literally 
than for many other industries, this is a burning platform now.

We will need to create content that can hold its own against competition 
of remarkable scale. Our ability to create programming that demands to be 
watched tonight will be limited. News will still do so, as will live 
sport - as the price of broadcast rights show. And there will be special 
programs, pumped and promoted to build high engagement around pseudo-
events such as Masterchef, that will also do the trick for a while before 
each fad inevitably fades.

What the ABC has demonstrated with iview is that an audience is there for 
great content, well curated and delivered in an accessible format. 

Our research suggests that when audiences discover iview – they love it, 
they use it, they keep coming back to it. More than ever, with the iview 
app, Australians are taking a tablet and going to bed. And this summer, 
when iview comes to the iPhone, so many more people will have a choice of 
500 of our programs to watch on the bus.

I do worry about the industry though.

There is every suggestion that Australians love Australian content on 
television. But that content has been delivered at its current levels 
through a regulatory framework that will be challenged by convergence.

No-one doubts that the complex set of arrangements that currently sustain 
Australian content levels - quotas, expenditure requirements, tax 
incentives, funding through screen agencies, the ABC and SBS - will need 
to change in a converged environment.

The ABC has argued in its submission to the Convergence Review that we 
will need to find something at least equal to it, if not better - if we 
are not to witness a serious decline in Australian content.

The findings of the Convergence Review on local content will prove very 
important. They will be seeking to ensure some parity in Australian 
content rules in a world in which YouTube will be delivering content on 
what looks like television channels on your television set. Such a 
regulatory framework will be challenging to conceive and execute.

But internet programming will increasingly be received and experienced as 
television - on a big home screen or a mobile one. Television as internet 
and internet as television - wherever the internet goes, so too goes an 
advertising superpower: Google.

This can only add to the challenges for the advertising-supported 
television services. And that means challenges for Australian content, so 
much of which has always depended upon those services.

I think it's disappointing that to date, Australian free-to-air 
television networks have not been able to work together to create a local 
version of Hulu - a place where so much of what is on television is 
available for catch-up and personalised programming where it is available.

With free-to-air currently holding a market share of more than 80 per 
cent of primetime TV viewing - and with the example of iview - this could 
have been a blockbuster in terms of positioning for a fast broadband 

And it would have been a great defensive play for when a Hulu actually 
lands here to offer seamless broadband viewing with fresh and archival 
global content. And defensive against the deep pocketed ambitions of a 
Foxtel, backed by Telstra and a few other significant household names in 
Australia's media.

The ABC did offer to make the iview architecture available to enable this.

And we would look to find ways to have the iview content up on this new 
site, as well as keeping iview.

It hasn't happened so far.

To date, audiences are still more lucrative in front of linear 
television, with the volume of advertising that can be sold in that forum.

And if there is to be catch-up content, the idea of putting it alongside 
a competitor's content on the same service can seem like it's a bridge 
too far.

There are rights issues, management issues, technological and revenue 
issues. And let's face it, it can be difficult to get competitors to work 

I hope we can.

Ten years ago I was on the executive of a newspaper company, Fairfax.

Now and again I ask myself: those of us who were editors, publishers, and 
senior executives - did we do enough? Was there enough challenging, 
questioning, experimentation - enough innovation - to best equip us for 
what lay ahead? To be best positioned for an uncertain future.

The answer is always no.

It's a lesson I often draw on when I am talking at the ABC - that in 
broadcasting, as in newspapers, not properly preparing ourselves for the 
impact of a fragmenting world will come at a great cost.

I recognise there are differences between what happened to newspapers and 
what may happen to broadcasters.

I expect that in a decade from now, traditional linear radio and 
broadcasting will still be reaching big numbers. That advertisers will 
still be drawn to the aggregation of the largest mass audience available.

But, broadcasters will have to work much harder to attract audiences and 
advertisers and earnings - particular the much sought-after younger 
audiences who bring in the cash. And the ABC will have to work harder to 
have content that is relevant and compelling - that commands an audience 
in a media environment of vast choice.

We know our future will not depend on our platforms. They'll be robust 
for a while yet. Our future will depend on delivering compelling content 
and program offerings: distinctive, high quality, Australian content of 
wide appeal and of specialist interest. And our future will also depend 
on us relentlessly making that programming available to audiences to 
consume how and when they like.



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