It looks like it’s on – the commercialisation of the ABC’s content online, starting with its wonderful archives and possibly soon spreading to its news and current affairs.

Yesterday Crikey asked the acting Managing Director of the ABC, Murray Green, to comment on rumours that the ABC Board will next week consider licensing the streaming of ABC content by a third party website, with the license fee based on advertising revenue.

Green didn’t confirm it, but he sure as hell didn’t deny it either. What he did say encouraged the view that the rumour may be true.

Yes, Green said, the Board is always looking at ways to augment ABC revenue. And yes, although legislation prohibits taking advertising on television and radio, taking advertising on the internet is “a matter of board discretion”.

Green confirmed that there are “ongoing discussions” with a number of commercial organisations about the licensing of ABC content – and this is nothing new. Mobile phone companies already provide ABC content under licence.

Green said that so far, licensing deals have been based on the value of the content the ABC provides, rather than directly on the advertising revenue generated by the third party. So would the Board consider a deal where revenue was directly tied to advertising? “I am not in a position to entertain discussions of what the board might consider”, said Green.

Green said he was not aware of a proposal for full scale advertising on the ABC’s own websites, but he did not deny that licensing deals might be linked to advertising on third party sites.

Meanwhile Quentin Dempster has called on the Board to release all proposals currently before it to commercially exploit ABC audio, video and online content. Dempster, of course, is the man most likely to succeed Ramona Koval as the ABC’s staff elected director, if it were not for the fact that the position is to be abolished.

Dempster says: “(The Board) should state up front whether it intends to apply its discretion to allow a revenue stream from advertising to be wrapped around ABC content on the ABC’s own website or through the website of its licensed business partners.”

Dempster believes such deals would distort the ABC’s purpose. The taxpayers have already paid for the content. It should be free to air in all media, and advertising free. Otherwise “within a short time the commercial imperative will overtake the Charter obligations and inevitably destroy the high level of trust the Australian public has shown in the ABC.” Dempster and others argued for the ABC Act to be changed to prohibit online advertising when the ABC/Telstra deal fell over in 2001. They were unsuccessful.

As Green points out, there is already advertising on the ABC’s Asia Pacific television service, and in ABC associated products like Gardening Australia magazine and Delicious magazine.

Aunty is already half a virgin. The fear is that new media will make her a harlot by proxy.

Peter Fray

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