The Empire Strikes Back With A Wet Lettuce Leaf

Written by:
19 January 2021
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After my AFR piece on the weekend, their ABC have responded.

Sinclair Davidson writing in the Australian Financial Review has presented a basket case of inaccuracies about the role of the ABC and its value to Australians.

basket case of inaccuracies.  Heh. That’s a bit rude. But warming to the theme:

Mr Davidson, a professor of economics at the RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub, is also listed as an adjunct fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and is the co-author of the publication “Against Public Broadcasting: why we should privatise the ABC and how to do it”.

That’s Doctor Davidson – but I suppose this is representative of the care and attention the ABC displays to the discovery and presentation of facts.

His 15 January piece “The ABC no longer has a purpose” displays a lack of understanding of the critical role of public broadcasters such as the ABC in the modern media age.

Having just told the world, that I’m a professor of economics and I’ve co-authored a whole book on public broadcasting, they now claim – with zero substantiation – that I don’t understand public broadcasting.

And the main contention – that Australian audiences are not as reliant on ABC services as they once were – is blatantly wrong.

Got that? Blatantly wrong!

In 2020 Australians turned to the ABC in record numbers, highlighting its role as Australia’s most trusted and valued media organisation.

Now they just repeating themselves.

Let’s look at the claims:

ABC News was the nation’s #1 digital news brand every month for the past 12 months.

Brand recognition? Seriously? I recognise Lamborghini as a brand – doesn’t mean I drive one. This is their original claim simply rebranded, if you’ll excuse the pun.

ABC News’s average daily digital audience is up 79% on 2019 to 2.2 million people and its average monthly audience is 38% higher at 12.5 million.

According to the ABS, the Australian population is 25.6 million. So 2.2 million is a very small number. So 8.6% of Australians use that #1 digital news brand.

ABC TV was the #3 network in 2020, for the first time since 2013.

There are only 4 networks. That means that #3 is really second last.

The ABC News channel achieved its highest-ever monthly reach in March of 6.4 million viewers.

Artificially boosted by the ABCs status as an emergency broadcaster, broadcasting both the bushfire crisis and the COVID pandemic.  Even then, the dodgy ‘reach’ number is a mere 25% of the population.

ABC TV was the only free-to-air network to experience significant growth in reach in 2020 (up 1.4 percentage points on 2019 to 46.9%).

Again, bushfires and the daily tune in to listen to the state premiers explain their latest COVID policy.

ABC Kids is the #1 channel among children, achieving a share of 53% among 0-4 year olds. ABC Kids is also #1 among 5-12s during daytime, with ABC ME in 2nd place.

Now we’re talking. The only instance where the ABC scores above 50%. Kids between the ages of 0 and 4 years of age. But, of course, this is crowding out as was reported in The Australian a few years ago.

ABC Radio was the nation’s #1 radio network in 2020 with a share of 25.3% (combined metro, regional and national). In total, our radio networks also reached 37.2% of listeners across the five major capitals.

100% – 25.3% = 74.7% of Australians do not listen to ABC Radio. The dodgy ‘reach’ number isn’t much better; 100% – 37.2% = 62.8% of Australians were not reached by ABC Radio.

All ABC Radio networks increased their share and reach this year.

One would hope so, what with so many people not being at work. Mind you, even their increased share and reach numbers are still pretty low.

15 of the top 20 ABC TV programs in 2020, across broadcast and ABC iview, were Australian.

Hardly surprising, but so what?

But the question remains. What exactly have I gotten blatantly wrong? With the exception of infants and very young children (aged 0 – 4) there is simply no majority of Australians reliant on the ABC. They were the second worst television network in Australia in 2020. By their own admission.  Close to 75% of Australians do not listen to ABC radio.

So bottom line – The ABC has confirmed my observation:

ABC apologists often point to survey results showing how many Australians “trust” the ABC as an organisation. Yet media rating data suggests few of those very same Australians actually consume their product. Australians “trust” and value the ABC because they are in the habit of doing so, not because they are overly familiar with ABC offerings.

Note that their ABC did not even attempt to rebut the substance of my argument – the ABC is an anachronism that simply cannot be reformed … and these people are calling me the basket case?

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