Launch of The Backyard: ABC Local Online

Tuesday 28 September 1999

Good evening and thank you all for attending this launch. We see here today a culmination of the ABC’s response to two prodigious challenges: budget cuts and the new media.

On both scores the ABC has prevailed with sharp and imaginative flair .

Upon receiving a massive cut in its budget, the ABC also faced an obligation to engage proliferating Internet technologies that were irrevocably changing the way the media is examined.

The ABC could have, arguably, mounted a case for a timid approach to these technologies – citing budget cuts as a convenient excuse.

Our staff wanted none of that. They wanted to be there at the beginning rather than to have to catch up later.

In accepting this task, they had to do more with less, they had to innovate, they had to think beyond their own experience and they had to do it quickly.

Their achievements require no embroidery – they are stark enough:

ABC Online recorded three million accesses last week, a growth rate of 33 per cent from twelve months ago.

ABC Online was recently voted the best media site at the Australian Internet Awards, an award it has won every year for the last four years. The ABC also regularly wins awards for specific web sites such as best entertainment site and best science and technology site.

From an initial investment of $750,000, and a total investment to date of around $5 million, ABC Online has been estimated to be worth $500 million.

ABC staff have done this because they wanted to. They understand that they work in an environment that values creativity, an environment that values thoughtful approaches, and an environment that produces worthy social outcomes.

I believe that the Backyard neatly fits all those criteria. At a time when many private and public institutions cannot get out of regional and rural Australia quick enough – the ABC is increasing its presence. Not through obligation, but through genuine want.

I have been fortunate enough to spend time in many of the regional centres featured within the Backyard, most recently: in Longreach for the Outback Revival, a televised open forum which addressed population issues in the country; in Wodonga for the 1999 launch of Heywire, an initiative seeking on-air comment from young people in rural and regional Australia; and in Albany for the launch of Radio Pictures, a locally produced television program featuring the community and its people.

There is an inescapable feeling of parity in the relationship between the ABC and regional Australia; so much of the ABC is defined by its presence there and we know just how much the ABC is appreciated and needed outside of capital cities.

Today we are further adding to that relationship with the Backyard. I am certain that regional Australia will befriend it, use it and contribute to it.

We do not kid ourselves that everyone is on the Internet, but it is on the move. The ABS reported in February that 1.3 million households (2.5 million people in the workplace) now had access to the Internet – an increase of 50 per cent over 1998. It is a communications medium that regional Australia needs to be in. To that end, the ABC is providing a localised gateway that gives those communities a stake in Internet information flows.

Just as we have done with radio and now the Internet, we also fervently hope to do with digital television – and that is, to give regional Australia a local voice. We await with interest the Government’s deliberations on that score.

In closing, congratulations and many thanks to Sue Howard (Head of Local and Regional Services) and all the staff involved in this sparkling achievement.
For further information contact:

Launch of The Backyard: ABC Local Online
Speech by ABC MD, Brian Johns
ABC Southbank Centre, Melbourne


By Rae Allen

Rae Allen is a digital media professional.

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