abc digital

The ABC is continuing to push its digital strategy — including its online streaming platform iView — in defiance of complaints from commercial operators about the ABC’s reach online.

In its 2018-19 corporate plan, the ABC has confirmed managing director Michelle Guthrie’s intentions to build on iView’s success, which has been one of the biggest criticisms of the ABC from other media.

Facing a competitive neutrality review and an efficiency study while the ACCC is also finalising a draft of its digital platforms inquiry, the ABC has been repeatedly criticised for its expansion into a digital space the that commercial outlets say is competing with them.

High up in the first of four pillars (which form the core of the three-year plan) called “creating distinctive content that matters for all Australians”, the ABC parades its cost-cutting ambitions:

In a constrained funding environment, it is vital the ABC continues to work to find further savings for investment in content. The ABC constantly seeks efficiencies in order to redirect funding away from back office expenses and towards content. Since 2014, this has allowed $70 million to be reallocated towards making high quality programs for Australian audiences. In coming years, there will be ongoing work to review and reduce non-content costs, as well as consider the prioritisation of spending within content areas.

The ABC’s plan covers the financial years 2019 to 2022 — the next triennial funding period that the government’s last budget in May indicated would include a funding freeze.

But, undeterred, one of the ABC’s “pillars” in its “investing in audiences” strategy is to “provide an outstanding audience experience”, and that includes changes to its digital platforms that will likely involve the ABC getting more user data in order to “deliver a seamless video service for audience members across all devices”.

Having to create an account and log in to use iView would put it in line with other network streaming platforms in Australia, including SBS OnDemand. And the plan also confirms that the ABC is working on changes to its digital rights management.

“This will require additional investment to secure more extensive digital rights for both digital and international markets,” the plan says.

Guthrie has previously said she wants iView — which is currently unavailable to users outside Australia — to be globally accessible. One of the key criticisms of SBS by the commercial networks has been its streaming platform, which is also free and includes content that the commercials believe isn’t in line with its charter.

Another pillar (“delivering programs that reach and engage with more people”) is also likely to upset the commercial sector. The plan describes the ABC’s intention to continue to use “innovative ways to connect with all Australians”. The most recent evidence of this is the launch of ABC’s lifestyle website, heavily criticised by commercial news outlets (including in Crikey) for replicating content available elsewhere.

“More people are transitioning to digital media over TV and radio, so we will reach and delight more Australians with distinctive digital products,” the plan says. The ABC also firmly stakes its future on digital radio, TV, websites and other platforms:

“Over the coming four years, the ABC will continue to operate legacy technology at the same time as commencing the transition to new digital and cloud-based technology services.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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