When will advertising come to our ABC?

Everyone in China bribes everyone all the time – presenter Jon Faine on the ABC 774 morning show

The ABC does not do advertising. The ABC does promotions. – Unknown presenter on ABC drive program

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation is a sacrosanct institution in Australia. Both its employees and the public – who, by estimates, contribute eight cents per head to keep it alive – have a sense of ownership about the corporation.

Given recent trends, the ABC, a service funded by taxes, seems to be gearing up for advertising – even though it would take an act of parliament for it to be able to go ahead. The statements above are just two of many reasons why I think this is on the corporation’s radar.

The first statement is that of a shock jock, a statement designed to tickle the latent feelings against foreigners resident in the underbelly of Australian society. People like Sydney shock-jock Alan Jones use such devices to increase audience share. Nobody else could characterise China, a society of 1.2 billion people, in such a careless manner.

It is also an indication that the ABC has sunk so low that statements like this go unnoticed.

But why should the ABC be bothered about ratings? After all, the public picks up the tab. There is one possible reason: the only TV or radio station that is bothered about ratings is the one that’s looking to attract advertising.

The second statement is pure spin. It seeks to mask the fact that, from dawn to dusk, the ABC has a constant stream of advertising. The ad slots are so numerous that at times, on TV at least, programs begin as much as five minutes behind schedule.

In one way, this saves ABC presenters quite a bit of work. On a given day, there are any number of radio and TV programs which need to be plugged. On Thursday mornings, for example, there is a plug for Insiders, a political talkfest on TV on Sunday.

Never mind if some other political commentator can provide more incisive or erudite commentary, given that Barrie Cassidy presents Insiders, of necessity one has to listen to him.

On Wednesdays earlier this year, one had to endure an interview with someone from the Chaser team – the plug was mandatory as the Chaser team had a TV program on ABC the same night.

The ABC’s ads about its own services apart, there is a constant stream of media releases from the ABC about the same programs sent to other media outlets.

A few months back, when Phillip Adams was interviewing ABC chief executive Mark Scott to mark the latter’s completion of three years in the post, Adams made a telling statement – that there had been little or no controversy during those three years.

Except, of course, the controversy over the Chaser’s now infamous “make a realistic wish foundation” skit.

The fact that Scott’s reign has been free of controversy is again a good omen for advertisers – no advertiser likes controversy of the type the Chaser provides.

Scott’s reaction to the Chaser incident would also have served to reassure any potential advertiser – he doused any possible flame by demoting an executive over what was a perfectly harmless skit. Advertisers love that kind of thing – it means that the man upstairs is sensitive to what causes public controversy and is willing to step in to make the majority happy.

An additional fact to note is that over the last three or four years, there has been a steady change in the type of people who present programs on the ABC; some of the newcomers, like Lindy Burns for example, are so light-headed in their approach as to be silly. But this kind of anodyne, unquestioning approach is precisely what big corporations look for when planning how to spend their media budgets.

For me, what has cemented the conclusion that the appearance of advertising on the ABC is only a matter of time, was the Gruen Transfer on ABC TV. Whether the program was a management idea or came from the head of Wil Andersen is immaterial – it was the ideal vehicle to test how people would react to having what was blatant advertising on the ABC.

No doubt Andersen expected to be able to use his plentiful wit and satire to poke fun at the world of advertising, much in the manner that he did on The Glass House. But he did not factor in the skills of his regular panel members, Russell Howcroft and Todd Sampson, who hijacked the show very cleverly and used it to their own ends.

Though the ABC does try to avoid gratuitously mentioning the names of companies – to the extent that it calls Melbourne’s second football ground Docklands even though the ground’s owners sell naming rights to a different company each year – Howcroft and Sampson managed to get quite a few commercial entities considerable mileage.

The ABC, apparently, was not in any way upset about this, with the only kerfuffle being a ban on showing an ad that it deemed to be too confronting; the ad was available for viewing online. The program did quite well in terms of viewership and that would have been encouraging.

The ABC has a good example in the shape of SBS – the latter has introduced advertising in the same manner that one boils a frog. No doubt the same methods will be resorted to by Aunty a few years down the track.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *