Oz’s ABC sets team

Watts, Lean among last recruits in Shier shake-up

SYDNEY — Robyn Watts, ex-chief exec of the sales arm of major Australian producer-distribber Southern Star, has resurfaced in the newly created role of content rights manager at the Australian Broadcasting Corp. pubcaster.

Her appointment, and that of Seven Network’s Drew Lean as production resources director, is among the last in an ABC management shake-up that has seen most incumbents jettisoned by new managing director Jonathan Shier.

On Friday, Shier broke 99 days of silence to address his staff. Shier told employees that the introduction of a U.K.-type of license fee, rather than direct government funding, might be a good idea, while labeling multicultural pubcaster SBS (which is run separately from the ABC) “dated and patronizing.”

The former deputy chief exec of the U.K.’s Thames TV said the pubcaster needed to boost ratings when compared with the popularity of the U.K.’s BBC and that ABC was “the most under-marketed organization” he had come across.

Chopping block

With that damning evaluation, marketing head Pat Heaslip can be added to the list of senior execs on the chopping block, which includes Julianne Schultz, corporate strategy, and Sandra Hart, research.

They could be joining head of TV Ron Saunders, who was replaced by former “60 Minutes” producer Gail Jarvis; news and current affairs head Paul Williams, who was ousted for ABC European correspondent Max Uechtritz; and development head Ian McGarrity, jettisoned for former Star TV general manager Guy Dunstan.

After senior execs Andy Lloyd James and Hugh McGowan walked the plank, the few survivors include regional radio head Sue Howard, who was upped to overall director of radio, while Sue Masters, who commissioned Granada’s ratings hit “Seachange,” will likely head drama.

Critics worry Shier will bring the ABC downmarket, noting most of his new appointments have come from the commercial sector.

The pubcaster last year achieved its best ever ratings with a 16% share, despite weathering a 12% funding cut by the conservative government.

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