Hundreds of redundancies at the middle and upper management levels of the ABC are to be progressively initiated by the national broadcaster’s managing director Michelle Guthrie on Tuesday.
Ms Guthrie, appointed to the million-dollar-a year job last year, will unveil her board-approved “flattened management” restructure is calculated to free up $50 million in coming years, which is said to be for reinvestment in programs.
After months of work by specially hired consultants and her executive, Ms Guthrie has invited all ABC staff to an internally-broadcast briefing at noon on Tuesday to hear “how we shape the ABC in 2017 and beyond”.
“In my conversations with staff I have made it clear that 2017 will be a year of action and change,” she said in an all-staff memo on Monday morning.
Having failed to secure additional money from the Turnbull government in the last funding negotiation, Ms Guthrie is finding that her primary task has been to manage the ABC’s decline. Hence the heightened effort to restructure the ABC’s organisation and management to cut non-programming costs as a first priority.
And like commercial free-to-air broadcasters Seven, Ten and Nine, she confronts the theft or diversion of once-loyal ABC eyeballs to increasingly popular video streamers such as Netflix and Stan.
To address the potential further decline in ABC TV audiences, her strategy is to renew and expand ABC programming content across the genres.
Always dependent on cheaper, off-the-shelf programs from the BBC and other broadcasters for the ABC TV prime time schedule, Ms Guthrie is staking the success of her five-year contract as managing director on new and distinctive content she hopes to generate from what could be a brutal restructure for those affected.
Because an estimated 70 per cent of the ABC’s operational budget goes on payroll for the 4200 full-time-equivalent workforce, the only way savings can be generated is through a body count of employees.
As one insider told The New Daily: “$50 million is a lot of staff blood on the floor, whether it comes from management or the creatives.”
Michelle Guthrie’s memo to ABC staff:
If the $50 million figure is confirmed by Ms Guthrie on Tuesday, executive directors about to take their designated new places in the restructure will have to deliver the required body count in coming months.
The last restructure in 2014 under then managing director Mark Scott resulted in 400 redundancies at the contentious cost of local TV and radio programs. At the time, Mr Scott said he needed to reshape the ABC to engage younger audiences increasingly accessing ABC content on mobiles and other portable devices.
Exactly what new content is to be created in the latest Guthrie restructure will depend on the innovation and inventiveness of her hand-picked commissioning executives.
Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster with decades of experience. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism. He tweets at @QuentinDempster