The ABC Has To Find $41M In Savings By 2021, Is Selling Its Ultimo HQ The Answer?

Sydney, Australia - October 18, 2014: The ABC Ultimo Centre, the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Currently faced with an indexation pause and budget cuts, the ABC is looking at a host of different options to increase efficiencies.

Speaking to Senate estimates on Tuesday evening, ABC managing director David Anderson revealed the broadcaster must find $41m in ongoing savings by the 2021/22 financial year.

“The ABC faces a challenging operating environment,” Anderson said.

“Production costs of making quality Australian content are rising rapidly…the competition for audience attention is intense as global media giants like Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple threaten to drown out Australian voices and stories.”

During the estimates, Anderson was quizzed by Liberal senator James McGrath on the possibility of repurposing the ABC’s property portfolio – which is made up of 46 locations around the country – to find efficiencies.

Anderson revealed the public broadcaster was currently looking at its Ultimo headquarters in Sydney, which was recently valued at $330m.

“We do have quite a large property portfolio,” Anderson said.

“One of the things we have done is undertake a feasibility study, which looks at some of the immediate options that might be available to us in regard to the properties we hold, specifically with regard to what opportunities might exist when it comes to our Ultimo building.”

Senator McGrath pointed towards the “Sky News model”, of a small inner-city studio and suburban headquarters.

However, Anderson did not appear to have much interest in selling the multi-million-dollar property.

“To totally decentralise Ultimo would come at a cost at a time that we need to find savings,” he said.

“We want to see what the commercial value of flaws within Ultimo that if we were to reorganise ourselves we might be able to rent out.”

Quality over quantity

Aside from looking at its property portfolio, the ABC has also been forced to cut jobs to bridge the gap, Anderson said.

“There will be job losses,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to close that gap without losing staff.”

“It’s not something I can quantify at this point in time, because I think there’s still more work to be done.

“As we look at the efficiency of what it is we’re doing, some of it relates to people’s employment, some of it does not – efficiency comes in many forms.”

In terms of the broadcaster’s output, Anderson said the ABC will still “abide by what is the principle of the ABC” as a public broadcaster.

“When you are faced with funding constraints in an environment where the cost of production is going up… in the end, we think, you have to prioritise quality over quantity,” he said.

Commercial options

While funding might be drying up, the ABC is still looking at ways to make money with its content.

“We can exploit content that we own, certainly off of our platform, as long as it’s free to all Australians on our platform,” Anderson said.

Anderson also said the broadcaster had found some savings already from renegotiating third-party deals and reducing management travel that is not related to content.


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