ABC to pay for ranking in Google searches


The ABC has been through about 10 efficiency reviews in 15 years and has made $324 million in savings since 2014.

However, the public broadcaster is still looking to buy AdWords to push content to the top of Google this weekend.

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An ABC spokesman said the broadcaster would be buying search terms for the royal wedding, but described the total amount spent on search engine marketing (SEM) as “very small”.

“For example, less than $1000 would be spent on SEM for the ABC coverage of the royal wedding, for which we will have both television and news coverage available. We spend on SEM purely to ensure our audience can easily find ABC coverage of significant news, television or radio programs or events,” he said, noting this was “no different” to other media organisations.

Ms Guthrie recently provided information to the Senate showing a $1.5 million spend on digital marketing in 2016. This included $1.05 million on social media marketing and $450,000 on SEM. All paid search activity is on Google, while 97 per cent of the ABC’s paid social marketing spend is on Facebook.

The ABC’s charter requires the broadcaster to show programs that contribute to Australia’s national identity, inform, entertain and reflect cultural diversity, and to air educational shows, as well as to broadcast to other countries programs that encourage awareness of Australian attitudes on world affairs.

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Channel Nine, Seven, News Corp’s Foxtel and SBS are also broadcasting the royal wedding.

ABC spending is being closely scrutinised as a result of the budget cuts, with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton criticising the broadcaster’s decision to fly presenters Annabel Crabb and Jeremy Fernandez to the UK for royal wedding coverage to supplement its existing team in London.

The AdWords spend has also been questioned by rival media companies, with Greg Hywood, chief executive of Fairfax Media (owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age), last year criticising the public broadcaster for using taxpayer money to drive traffic via Google and competing “aggressively” for online audiences with other news publishers.

In one case, from November 2016 to October 2017, the broadcaster spent an average of $1512 a month to ensure the ABC’s news pages appeared at the top of Google for the keyword “breaking news”. The ABC also paid for the terms “national news”, “political news” and “sports news” – ranging from $1.24 to $85.11 a month per keyword.

The ABC’s overall market research and promotion budget dropped from $10.7 million in 2015-16 to $10.02 million in 2016-17, while the advertising category climbed from $3.1 million to $3.6 million over the same period.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the ABC had “legislated operational independence” but the government would undertake an efficiency review to “assist the public broadcasters to be the best possible steward of taxpayer dollars”.

“It’s for the ABC to explain the activities it chooses to pursue under its legislated independence,” Mr Fifield told Fairfax Media in a statement. “However, the government-commissioned competitive neutrality review provides a mechanism for practices in dispute to be examined.”

The public broadcaster’s AdWords spend is expected to be discussed during an ongoing inquiry into whether the ABC and SBS compete with commercial media companies.

SBS was not bidding on keywords to promote coverage of the royal wedding, a spokesman said, though from “time to time … spends marketing budget on campaigns to promote and extend the reach of distinctive programs and services”. It’s understood this budget includes paying for AdWords to boost traffic.

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke writes about media and telecommunications.

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