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‘Digitalising Aunty’ – Mark Scott’s vision for the ABC

Australia’s ABC, affectionately known as ‘Aunty’, is often regarded as an institution that is slow to embrace innovations and technologies –almost a relic of bygone times.  Aunty has a certain old school feel about her, whether it be the familiar faces of its presenters or its consistent programming. However, in reality, a more fitting name for the ABC of today would reflect that the ABC has broken down barriers ahead of its commercial cohorts.

Last month, about 150 guests crammed into a small room at the UTS Aerial Function Centre to hear Mark Scott, the managing director of the ABC, outline how the ABC was responding in the era of digital information, as part of the UTSpotlight series for the university’s alumni.

Scott reflected on a time when the ability of audiences and readers to quench their news thirst was at the mercy of the country’s news editors and newsagents. For example, if your newsagent wanted to, he could sell you a nine day-old copy of the New York Times; if you made it home in time, you would watch Richard Morecroft read the news, and if the head of news at Fairfax thought you might be interested, you could read an article from The Washington Post.

However, times have changed and while many see the ABC’s charter, structure and funding to be constraints holding it back, Scott believes innovation loves constraints and he’s taken these constraints by the horns. His view is the ABC should be more innovative, more relevant and more responsive to Australians than any other network.

Since taking the helm in 2006, Scott has expanded its services and the ABC now provides news, information, entertainment and other content across an expanding array of platforms: four television channels; digital radio channels to complement the four national and 60 local services; an elaborate online operation and customised material for mobile and other new media devices.

It’s fair to say the ABC is leading the digital charge. Its iView product, developed on a typical ABC budget of ‘as little as possible’, was the first to unlock audiences from their nightly 7pm social contracts with newsreaders to view their news. It meant they could view the news, and their favourite TV shows, at any time, from anywhere using the device of their choosing – iPhone, iPad or iMac. The ABC has realised the importance of digital and online in helping it to engage and maintain its audience.

Even the stalwart ‘old school’ bastions of the ABC have moved into the digital age – Four Corners has a Facebook page to interact with its audience, and Q&A regularly generates more than 30, 000 tweets in a single hour. The ABC has revolutionised the content Australians are seeing on their screens, centering it around them and what they have to say.

According to Scott, the role of the ABC is no longer that of a news teller but as a news host -- a place where people can tell their own news and stories. The ABC is about Australian content and stories, stories for Australians by Australians. It provides a platform that allows them to do so. And where better than in their own world – online.

Guest post by Dorea Lau (@dorealau)

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