Australia’s ABC plans cuts to factual slate, anticipates 250 job losses in five-year strategy

Australian broadcaster ABC laid out its five-year strategy Wednesday (June 24), announcing it would be reducing independent production by AU$5 million (US$3.45 million), predominately from the factual and entertainment slate. The cuts ...
June 24, 2020

Australian broadcaster ABC laid out its five-year strategy Wednesday (June 24), announcing it would be reducing independent production by AU$5 million (US$3.45 million), predominately from the factual and entertainment slate.

The cuts will see entertainment and factual chief Josie Mason-Campbell depart from the broadcaster, Realscreen has confirmed. Mason-Campbell joined the ABC in 2017 as head of non-scripted production.

The change will bring together ABC Factual content makers – currently split between entertainment and factual and specialist – into the new factual and education team, under Aidan Laverty.

It will also bring together ABC’s entertainment and comedy content makers into the new drama, entertainment  and Indigenous team, under Sally Riley, as part of an effort to drive collaboration across scripted and non-scripted comedic content.

ABC will prioritize independent production investment in drama and children’s programming.

Managing director David Anderson said the federal government’s indexation pause, which cut the ABC’s budget by $84 million over three years with an ongoing reduction of $41 million a year from 2022, coming on top of the $64 million in ongoing cuts imposed in 2014, “made difficult decisions affecting jobs and services inevitable.”

“The proposals announced today ensure the ABC can enhance its value to all Australians now and into the future,” he stated. “However, we anticipate we will farewell as many as 250 people through this process, valued colleagues who have made tremendous contributions to the ABC and to our audiences.”

In response to the content budget, Screen Producers Australia (SPA) CEO Matthew Deaner said in a statement: “This announcement simply compounds the injury to an industry already weakened by COVID-19- related shutdowns, the lack of a comprehensive support package for the sector, reductions in output and funding from commercial broadcasters and a lack of ongoing baseline support from SVODs and other online content providers in the absence of evolved content regulation.

“I am heartened to hear that drama and children’s content will be largely protected from this latest round of cuts… However, the damage that these cuts will deal to factual and entertainment programming will begin to show immediately, not just for the small businesses which make up the Australian independent production sector, but also for the audiences who sit down to watch these programs each night.”

SPA re-stated its call on the government to provide “targeted relief” for the screen production industry, including a content fund to facilitate a return to work and assistance with insurance gaps which now arise for the production industry.

The broadcaster’s strategy outlined other proposals to address budget cuts, among those rebranding ABC Comedy to create a home for genres such as arts, science, education and religion, in addition to reduced numbers in management and support teams.

ABC stated it also identified “savings greater than 2% through current vacancies, redundancies and reducing operating costs.”

Among other components of the plan, ABC is committing to have 75% of its content makers located outside the Ultimo by 2025.

“This initiative will embed the ABC in more communities, and lead to more reporting and content making in the suburbs of capital and regional cities. We will be the home of Australian conversations in our cities our towns, streets and suburbs,” Anderson stated.

ABC will also shift more of its effort towards on demand digital services.

“It has been a challenging year for many reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic just one of them. The bushfires across the country last summer tested our teams to provide an outstanding rolling coverage, from our metro news rooms to our regional bureaux – and across the ABC. And COVID-19 has tested us even further, changing the normal workplace culture that is so important for all of us here at the ABC,” Anderson said in a speech. “There have been challenges as well in the shockwaves across our industry with many businesses finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their normal levels of service amid so much disruption. Newsrooms across the country are contracting or closing; the production sector currently affected by COVID-19 continues to be swamped by the sheer volume of competition and falling revenue; and audiences everywhere are becoming more fragmented.”

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