I’ve been closely watching for years as the TV, Radio and Online divisions of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) have dealt with changes in audience needs/wants and technological advances in how people consume and communicate with the media.
The Online and Innovation teams have achieved a lot since the first ABC websites in the mid-late 1990’s, especially considering the lions share of resources are still allocated to the traditional broadcasting areas of the organisation.
Howling Winds of Change and Important Factors
Innovating and planning for the far off future is risky like juggling with fire and very time consuming with much of the work involved at the beginning to create appropriate systems – but there are huge exciting payoffs in having the best Australian online content delivery and discovery systems ready by the time the ultra fast National Broadband Network rolls out to most of Australia.
My comments in this article draw from experience working in diverse positions like web designer, search engine optimisation consultant, librarian, professional blogger and journalist as well as my degrees in Business Computing and Information Management.
- Content Management – The ABC is moving to a new online content management system which will make delivering online content easier. To the best of my knowledge having to work around the current old CMS was a big limiting factor for online innovation. It will hopefully help to fix SEO issues like many ABC domains with duplicate content to abc.net.au for search listings in Google eg: abc.com.au abcscience.com.au bananasinpyjamas.com abcclassics.com etc
- High Cost of Popularity Online – with the old transmission model of transmitting your shows from broadcast towers over the air, the more people who listen to your radio show or watch your broadcast TV channel the better as there’s no extra cost.
However with iView and streaming radio each new viewer/listener means the broadcaster has extra costs in servers for storage and data transmission. Also people who want all the content in high definition should realise that buying TV shows in HD often costs more than SD and all HD streams would greatly increase data transfer costs for the ABC so it’s unlikely to happen soon.
- Many Devices to Consume Content – For the sake of equity and making content available to all Australians rich and poor, urban or regional I urge the ABC to continue on its path of concentrating on creating online systems which are platform nuetral or use API’s to show ABC content on internet enabled devices. Putting a lot of resources into improving the user experience for 1 electronics manufacturer at the expense of all the others would be inequitable.
- People Want To Download All Programs on ABC TV – this is unrealistic because in most cases the ABC buys the rights to play a TV show from its creators and there are severe restrictions on how many times the show can be played on digital tv, available online for iView streaming etc. Downloads won’t happen because TV show creators like the BBC, HBO etc want to sell DVD’s, Blurays and Pay per View on Foxtel.
- Why are ABC iView and News 24 streaming Only Viewable in Austrralia? – same reason of rights issues. eg: ABC News 24 broadcasts a few hours of BBC World TV at night and the BBC would not want that available to the whole world to watch for free when they’re trying to sell access to it on Pay TV networks.
Another example is the Daily Show and Colbert Report available on iView streaming. The show’s owner Comedy Central would not be happy if people outside of Australia were watching their shows on iView. The one exception is that News 24 has been unlocked during Australian state and federal election coverage so Australians overseas can find out who wins.
- Living in a world of “Permanent Transition” – it’s all very well for ABC staff to realise this (and many do) but they have to work within the confines of budgets set by the federal government every 3 years. Think about how much technological change has happened in the last 3 years!
- Broadcasting/Media Regulations are Slow to Change – the ABC has to abide by lots of government rules. For example Commercial and national broadcasters in the metropolitan areas of mainland Australia are required to broadcast at least 1040 hours of high definition television (HDTV) programs each year.
When the ABC wanted to launch the News 24 channel the only spectrum (broadcasting space) they had left was the HD channel. I’m sure they would have rather made it available to everyone as standard definition digital TV but they weren’t allowed to.
- Can’t Please Everyone Equally – the ABC TV charter is to provide for all Australians but they cant please everyone all the time eg: some viewers have SD digital boxes so they cant watch News 24 which is HD only and some remote rural/regional viewers only have access to analog tv networks so anything on the digital mulichannels like ABC2/3 for kids is out of their reach.
- ABC Audience Includes Many Demographic Groups – they consume TV content in wildly differing ways eg: younger people more likely not to own a TV but watch on desktop/laptop computer or mobile/tablet computer and older viewers more likely to be traditional “appointment viewers” who watch TV live at the time of broadcast, not recording to a PVR/DVR like TiVo and watching later at a time they feel like.
Metadata & Customised “Your ABC”
I have concentrated on ABC TV/Video content in this article because they’ve been the ABC area who seem to be changing the fastest at present.
The ABC doesn’t have the money for bigtime advertising so specific segments of people can find out about ABC content that they would like if only they knew it existed.
This is where a CMS for ABC Online that has good SEO (search engine optimisation) qualities can help make new ABC content more visible to potential audiences and enhance the current public relations techniques of emailing PDF files about upcoming shows to the media.
“It’s Your ABC” is a phrase often used by the ABC. Well organised and accurate Content Metadata as well as Customised Content are the keys to provide every Australian with a personalised RSS feed/webpage they can view online or via internet connected devices using API’s to see a list of content that is truly personalised and “Your ABC”.
In the big Australian cities we have the paradox of choice. 15 digital free to air TV channels with one more to come from Network 10 means its next to impossible for people to read through a TV guide at the beginning of each week to decide what they should watch.
A great step for the ABC to take is to meet with developers from Hybrid TV who sell the TiVo PVR in Australia and learn how TiVo enhances the TV watching experience by learning the kinds of shows it’s owners like to watch, lets you subscribe to any show with your favourite actor, suggests similar shows and records them automatically etc.
Creating new types of ABC content is great but it’s equally important to make sure that the huge amount of content already created within the ABC is easily discoverable and linked to the interests of each ABC audience member.
At the moment i’m sure there are countless interesting radio segments and ABC TV/video items i’m missing out on because I have to find out about them by chance or hope a friend will remind me to watch/listen.
Another potential is education eg: an ABC Education mobile application or web portal that uses Radio and TV content with proper metatags so schools can get a feed of content by area eg: science, language, history, geography etc.
ABC Radio: My suggestion would be to better resource producers and link the metadata in MP3 podcast files to an ABC online account where I could specify which topics or people i’m interested in eg: “Richard Roxburgh” and create an individualised RSS feed to subscribe through to iTunes/Podcast apps so I could hear any ABC Radio show segment he appears in whether its promoting the science documentary series Voyage to the Planets which he narrated, the character he plays in the ABC TV drama Rake or some other topic.
ABC TV: is already tagging and add metadata to video content so it can be viewed in ABC iView. More of the same please 🙂 and all this content needs to be integrated into the “Your ABC” website account so it can be discovered by people who have entered people/topics they are interested in eg: “David Attenborough” (which would display a list of nature documentaries he narrates on TV soon or iView), Western genre (which would display shows like Deadwood and any historical documentaries about the American West on TV soon or iView) etc.
ABC Radio was probably the first media organisation to embrace podcasting in Australia (in early 2004), add quality metadata and make it available through RSS feeds.
When I heard the ABC RN Background Briefing story Music of the Blogospheres in October 2004 I knew podcasting would revolutionise audio listening. Specialist areas like Radio National are largely on the right track but lack funding to do more.
Issues ABC Radio needs to work on include that producers, especially in local radio, often don’t have the time to podcast a selection of the best program segments and the programs which are being podcast are hard to discover unless someone recommends them to you.
When I was a kid in the early 90’s in Australia we had 5 analog free TV channels. These channels had big audiences because there was nothing else to watch except VHS tapes. DVD’s hadn’t been invented yet and home internet access was a few years away.
By early 2011 I’ll have 16 free digital TV channels to watch as well as DVD/Bluray movies, tv shows and the ability to access countless hours of video content via my 10mbit Internode ADSL2+ connection and Google Android smartphone running Telstra NextG.
The model of limited video content to watch on a handful of channels has been shattered and replaced by a multitude of options.
The audience has fragmented into viewing video content on innumerable devices including: Digital TV, Cable or Satellite Pay TV, DVD, Bluray, Youtube on a Computer/TV/Mobile, Video on Demand delivered via the Internet/Cable TV/Satellite, Mobile TV on a Smartphone or Tablet, Personal Media on home networked storage and much more.
ABC TV was the first broadcaster to embrace multi channel digital TV, begin vodcasting popular programs so they could be downloaded and watched on portable devices, launched iView IPTV 2 years ago for computer viewing and recently expanded this to Mobile devices, internet connected TV’s and games consoles.
It was clear when listening to Arul Baskaran (recently appointed Controller of ABC TV Multiplatform Production department) at the recent ABC 2011 TV/iView press event that he was on the ball and aware that TV is changing quickly as a device and a medium and a format with more choice and platforms.
Bhaskaran said that audiences love the choice, to watch what they want, where and when they want to watch it. The mission for his department is to be the most relevant source of screen content on all platforms by concentrating on these 3 areas:
Discovery: help people search and navigate content on air, online and all platforms, social media.
Access: make ABC content available on as many platforms as is practically possible within available budgets (eg: Playstation 3, Sony and Samsung TVs Bluray players, iPhone, iPad tablet, Android 2.2 and later. Android optimisation in the future. H264 MPEG4 iView content delivery is more efficient.)
Engagement: eg: ABC3 channel and linked activities on the ABC3 website. Broadcasters need to participate and engage with “the group formally known as the audience”.
2011 expansion plans include: ABC At The Movies application (probably for the iPhone), building on Twitter Q&A success, touch and tablet interfaces for ABC Kids eg: play school and bananas in pyjamas, webcam based augmented reality and serious games like Alternator, an arcade style racer game about energy choices.
My IT journalist colleague Angus Kidman at Lifehacker spoke to Arul regarding the future of iView: