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From Crisis to Innovation – Public Service Broadcasters Rise to the Challenge

Public service media must understand and build on their identity if they are to thrive in a post-pandemic world. That was one of the core messages that came from the second expert panel on the second day of the 2021 ABU-Rai Days dialogue, hosted from Rai in Milan and conducted by Zoom around the world.

With several senior executives from public broadcasters in the Asia-Pacific and Europe and moderated by ABU Secretary-General Dr Javad Mottaghi, the panel was titled “From crisis to innovation: Turning challenges into opportunities that benefit the citizen”.

The first speaker, Masagaki Satoru, Executive Vice President of NHK Japan and Vice President of the ABU, described how the COVID crisis had affected Japan’s public broadcaster.

He said with more people tuning in and staying longer, NHK had tried to make itself a “one-stop portal” for the Japanese population across different platforms. NHK had researched all available information on the pandemic and used artificial intelligence to sort through about 200,000 papers to bring accurate information. They had produced 2,100 programs on their educational channel with 7,000 media clips and they found that access had quadrupled. He was proud of how they served more reclusive people through NHK’s Virtual Platform for Greater Participation.

Gilles Marchand, Director General of SRG SSR in Switzerland, said they had undergone several crises in recent years that had stress-tested them and produced a very tough organisation. He had several pieces of advice from their experiences. These included: Focus on the relationship with audiences; concentrate resources on programs; deliver legitimate services; play a useful role in the whole media ecosystem, not working alone; and define technical projects strictly.

Lim Byung-Kul, Executive Vice President of KBS Korea, spoke about how they had to change news gathering and content creation and he described some of the financial and resources challenges KBS had to overcome. He said advertising shrank and there was no growth in content sales, so licence revenue was critical.

Frank Dieter Freiling, Senior Vice President of International Affairs at ZDF Germany, wanted to add three further pieces of advice. One was to make use of the increase in audiences for their linear television, online and new media platforms to make ways to keep them as viewers; his second point was that news was the main vehicle of increased viewing, so it needed to adapt to changed society as conversations in 2021 became more diverse; and third, he said there was a demand for high-end fiction for linear television players, but no-one could shoulder the challenge themselves.

 Iman Brotoseno, President Director of TVRI Indonesia, described how TVRI had coped with serving more than 250 million people throughout a widely spread nation while remaining true to the mandate it had been given by government. He said they were especially proud of their “study-from-home” education service to help children learn while they were unable to attend school. There are about 60 million children in Indonesia, and these were some of their “hottest” programs.

Dr Javad Mottaghi, ABU Secretary General, asked the panellists for a 20 second takeaway from their discussions and these included the integration of broadcasting platforms, and the message that PSM is essential as is the nurturing of confidence and trust with their audiences.