The ABC should use its data, not Peppa, to prove its worth

It's time to retire the pig and pull out the big guns: socially-oriented visualisations on the real worth of the ABC.

Graph for The ABC should use its data, not Peppa, to prove its worth

The debate around the funding of the ABC is stuck in an intellectual trough: Peppa Pig’s trough.

If you have kids, a Twitter account or a strange fixation on kids cartoons, you’ll likely recognise the cute, anthropomorphic pig from ABC. Well, Peppa has been taken out of her pen and is being held hostage. Our national broadcaster is threatening to fry the porcine character’s bacon should the government go ahead with its cuts.

The campaign to save Peppa has proven effective in two rather separate ways: Firstly, it’s been great ammunition for inspiring a raft of pig-related puns. More importantly, it’s had significant cut-through on social media. Even now, a month after ABC head Mark Scott originally threatened to send Peppa to the abattoir, memes still linger across Facebook and the Twittersphere. They were reignited this week by the Greens and other supporters of the ABC in light of the stories emerging from the review into the broadcaster’s budget.

But the campaign hasn’t done the ABC any favours in terms of arguing why it needs to keep (or even increase) its level of funding. Some might say that the move takes the spotlight away from the network’s key selling points and onto the fact that it offers a keen assortment of kids shows.

This is a shame, as it’s not difficult to really measure and show the real value of Aunty. The ABC collects and in some cases publishes copious amounts of data on its appreciation and impact in Australian society. For example, it’s the only news organisation that empirically measures whether it was fair to all political parties during an election.

Graph for The ABC should use its data, not Peppa, to prove its worth

Source: ABC 2013 Election Report

More on how it could harness this data a little later. First, it’s worth pointing out why the ABC turned to Peppa in the first place. One explanation is that this isn’t a new tactic. Like most things social media, it originated from the US.

Last year, during the US presidential debate Mitt Romney said he would move to cut funding to the US’ Public Broadcasting Service.Talking to the debate’s PBS moderator Jim Lehrer, he said: I'm sorry, Jim. I'm going to the stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too.”

No prizes for guessing what happened next. 

Graph for The ABC should use its data, not Peppa, to prove its worth

Sound familiar? Source: Twitter

During the presidential debate the word ‘Big Bird’ trended on Twitter at a rate of 17,000 tweets a minute. Memes decrying the death of the character lingered on the web for months, and the event ended up as yet another slip-up in Romney’s failed bid for the White House.

So now we have something similar with Peppa Pig and the ABC. While the memes have well and truly gone viral, it’s doubtful that they have changed anyone’s perceptions of the issue.

Well-placed, well-marketed data, however, has a much more lasting impact on public debate. For instance, while Peppa’s reach is starting to slip, talk about some of the sizable salaries at our national broadcaster are still lingering. This is largely due to the fact that the paper that broke the story, The Australian, published the data online.

Talking about the power of data, we published this graph earlier this year using figures from its annual reports and federal budget data. It essentially shows that while government spending had ballooned, the broadcasters funding had flat-lined in real terms. This is despite the fact that it has exponentially increased the number of services it offers to the public in the same period. 

Graph for The ABC should use its data, not Peppa, to prove its worth

That graph exploded on Twitter and Facebook, largely propelled by the ABC’s own journalists, who have rather high followings on both platforms. It was used to accost Malcolm Turnbull on his justification for the cuts on the ABC’s 7.30 program.  

There is no doubt that the ABC and its supporters are doing the best they can to rail against impending budget cuts. But it is time to up the ante and draw on the data contained in the studies the ABC already produces to justify its role to government.  

The Abbott government is sharpening its assault on the network, and Peppa is not a reply to this debate. She has served her purpose and put this issue on the map, but now they should to retire the pig and pull out the big guns: historical figures and calculated socially-oriented visualisations on the real worth of the ABC. 

Got a question? Let us know in the comments below or contact the reporter @HarrisonPolites on Twitter. 

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