Federal Politics

EXCLUSIVE

ABC boss Michelle Guthrie aims to save millions by taking axe to management

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie is poised to announce a sweeping overhaul of the broadcaster's management structures that is designed to free up tens of millions of dollars to invest in programming.

Ms Guthrie's plan - which she has been developing since she arrived at the ABC last May - will be presented to the ABC board for final approval next week, with an official announcement scheduled for next month.

ABC sources said the plan to "take a scythe" to the broadcaster's layers of management could eventually save up to $50 million a year when fully implemented. The savings would be invested in original television and radio programming and to further deepen the ABC's push into mobile and digital platforms.

"We are talking big savings," one source familiar with the plans said.

The focus of the restructure will be middle management, with significant cuts expected to staffing levels in areas such as the ABC's finance, property and information technology departments.

Middle managers will also be cut from the ABC's radio, news and television divisions.

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Sources said Ms Guthrie, who previously worked as an executive at Google and News Corporation, believes the ABC was "overly consultative", "bureaucratic" and "over managed" and needs to be streamlined.

The overhaul comes after a tumultuous start to the job for Ms Guthrie, who has been attacked for cuts to science program Catalyst and programming changes to Radio National.

Veteran ABC broadcaster Phillip Adams told Fairfax Media recently: "On the Richter scale of dread this is the most intense I've ever seen."

The management overhaul will be a landmark moment for Ms Guthrie because most of the controversial decisions taken under her leadership were in train before her arrival or driven by executives beneath her.

Sources said the restructure could help win over wary program makers who have long believed ABC management is bloated and would support more money for original content. But others cautioned that any change to ABC operations is difficult and often fiercely resisted.

During the development of the restructure there has been a flurry of senior departures from the ABC, including director of television Richard Finlayson, chief operating officer David Pendleton, director of digital networks Angela Clark and the head of ABC international Lynley Marshall.

In November Ms Guthrie appointed two consultants, former Foxtel and Sky News executive Jim Rudder and business transformation expert Debra Frances, to conduct a wide-ranging review of the ABC's operations and advise her on possible changes.

As part of the overhaul, Ms Guthrie has explored creating a new position, known as the chief content officer, to oversee all news, television and radio content.

This would demote the traditionally powerful division heads, who would no longer report directly to her.

Fairfax Media understands this idea has been shelved for now, but could be revived after the initial restructure is bedded down. The first stage of the restructure will focus on back office functions with later changes to come for the content divisions.

The restructure includes the creation of a new high-powered executive position known as director of audience engagement. This role will make use of modern analytics tools to ensure the ABC is catering to the media habits of the different parts of its audience.

Approving the plan will be one of ABC chair James Spigelman's final significant decisions before he departs the broadcaster next month after five years in the role. The Turnbull government is currently considering his replacement.

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