A scheme to introduce advertising on a new ABC mobile phone site is “well advanced” according to ABC insiders who fear the plan will threaten the national broadcaster’s editorial integrity.

Crikey has seen a leaked design for a new site, which is known internally as the “Hybrid Mobile Project.” The site features ads for non-ABC related commercial businesses alongside factual content such as sport and weather.

Ads for two tourism related companies, “Stayz” and “Expedia.com.au” were included in mock-up pages for the new site which will be accessible on mobile phones and which is now being developed “aggressively” ahead of an imminent roll-out date.

The project, which is believed to have backing from the highest levels, including the Managing Director, Mark Scott, is a joint initiative of ABC Commercial and ABC Innovations, hence the name “hybrid.”

Although, perhaps “Hydra” or “Hydra’s head” would be more appropriate because it seems that every time the staff at the ABC manage to knock off a scheme to introduce advertising, another resurfaces in its place.

This latest scheme is causing widespread concern within the Innovations department. Staff fear the idea breaches the corporation’s editorial guidelines and have demanded the head of the department explain the rationale for introducing advertising. Another manager is believed to be preparing briefing notes in anticipation of wider controversy when others outside the unit become aware of the scheme.

Crikey understands development will be outsourced to a Sydney based mobile marketing and brand communications company called Wapfly Technologies and that staff within Innovations will supply content. Wapfly is now awaiting syndication of material from Innovations so that it can finish developing the site.

It is understood that managers have told staff that the advertising of outside commercial businesses will be sought and that the ads will sit above and below factual information. The site will also include details on how to buy ABC programs such as Dr Who and other popular programs and that these ads will also be in close proximity to news content, further blurring the lines between commercial and editorial material.

Insiders say the content is not quarantined from the ads and that even though the ads may be accompanied by ABC Commercial’s coloured worm logo this amounts to a subtlety that will be lost on the audience who will be exposed to a new level of advertising for the first time. They argue this will undermine the ABC’s reputation as a broadcaster untainted by commercial interests.

ABC Corporate Communications did not get back to Crikey this morning.

Peter Fray

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