Thursday, November 05, 2009

ABC plans to seek global audience

ABC Managing Director Mark Scott wants to extend the government-funded broadcaster's reach, pitching the expansion as crucial to the enhancement of Australia's "soft diplomacy" - it's an effective way to win the hearts and minds of foreigners. Extending the ABC's reach globally will, of course, require additional funding on top of the roughly AU$800 million currently funnelled annually to the public broadcaster. Corporate news outlets will not welcome increased taxpayer-funded competition for the news audience.

Back in August News Corporation's James Murdoch was highly critical of the BBC's dominance of British broadcasting, enabled through more than US$9 billion in government funding - according to the BBC it "has more money than the rest of the broadcasting industry in the UK put together". News Corporation on the other hand must attempt to make a profit, a task it is finding increasingly difficult. It therefore plans to charge for at least some of its online news content. The BBC and ABC will continue to provide online news free of charge, however.

It remains to be seen whether corporate news outlets could turn a profit by charging for "straight" news - why pay News Corp for the same information available for free from the BBC and ABC? It seems likely then that corporate sites will lure readers into paying for unique content created by, for example, noted pundits.

Asian Correspondent employs a variation of this tactic. AC offers Asia-centric news but the information is available elsewhere. What AC offers that's unique is the wide-ranging news and views provided by its stable of bloggers. I haven't seen AC's traffic figures but I'm guessing readers come to the site not so much to update on the news but rather to see what the bloggers are writing about. Here again, it remains to be seen whether AC will be able to attract a large enough readership to make it profitable, presumably through advertising revenue alone.

In any event, it appears that only the government-funded outfits like the BBC and ABC have a secure online future, isolated as they are from market forces.


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