Mark Scott, Managing Director, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is one of Australia’s main public service broadcasters. The onus on ABC will be to lead innovation on the Australian broadcast landscape. ABC managing director Mark Scott shares his insight on how the company’s role in meeting Australian broadcasting needs has changed.
VIA SATELLITE: How is new broadcasting technology impacting your business?
Scott: I think the driver of a lot of HD and even 3-D TV has been sports, but we don’t do a lot of sports, and certainly don’t do a lot of sports in prime time. We are looking at a range of things. Increasingly, we can see two-screen viewing. People who are watching a program, but also engaging with that content online. We have had real success with a talk show format in prime time called ‘Q & A’ where we broadcast that live across the country. The audience is able to ask questions to a panel of experts, including major political figures, that are sent in by text message or online. We also have a very vibrant Twitter conversation going on. We put a Twitter feed live on to the screen that goes out live onto the national broadcast. When we had the Australian Prime Minister, we received more than 35,000 Tweets in the hour.
VIA SATELLITE: What are your plans in terms of producing more content in HD?
Scott: We are producing an increasing amount of content in HD, but right now, it is not 100 percent HD. We were constrained around spectrum. We wanted to create a 24-hour news channel. The only spectrum that was available to us was the HD spectrum, so we put it on that. We appreciate that it is not the optimal use of HD spectrum and are monitoring the take-up of digital in Australia. Right now, digital take-up is more than 80 percent. We think about 90 percent of homes are now going to HD. A sweet spot might emerge from now, where we migrate one of our other channels to HD, but we are not there yet. In an Australian context, sports broadcasting has been the only real driver of HD engagement at this point.
VIA SATELLITE: Will you need more satellite capacity during the next year?
Scott: That is a broader question for the government really. One of the phrases that have defined our development is the ‘tyranny of distance’ in Australia. I remember when I started at ABC five years ago. I was getting a briefing on digital transmission rollout and I was told that we had rolled out 50 percent of the transmission towers to reach 92 percent of the country, and that the next 50 percent would reach 6 percent of the country. There was 2 percent where they had not worked out how they were going forward. Part of the satellite challenge is around the in-fill, and being able to deliver FTA channels to those really isolated communities. That is the main satellite challenge that we see at the moment.
VIA SATELLITE: Where does ABC’s roadmap lead next?
Scott: You have to make plans for the future, but at the same time, you must be able to adapt, scoop down and pick up the new things that are playing. We have pushed pretty hard with the Apple applications. But, we are now looking at the growth taking place in the Android world, and we recognize that we need to make sure content is more available in that area. We increasingly look at genres where we have a real strength and look at how we can consolidate our position in those, so we started a new children’s channel on television two years ago. Now we have about four television channels. I think it is fair to say that ABC has gone through as much change in the last five years than it has in the previous 50 years. We have doubled the number of TV channels; we have rolled out a suite of radio channels; and we have expanded our online and mobile activities very extensively.
If you look back at 2001, you may have forecast the growth of multi-channel and the growth of personalized media choices and mobile. You probably would not have picked social media as a growth factor. If a company works well in those areas, it should find itself pretty adaptable to where social media is going. We have been far more aggressive in using Facebook and Twitter than other organizations.