Words. Richard Finlayson
In the Australian media environment public broadcasters play a number of important roles. One less often discussed is the ability and freedom for organisations like the ABC to take risks that other media providers might not.
The ABC has an obligation to deliver a cultural return on the investment of the Australian public. Being free to take risks means that the ABC can innovate in the ways it delivers on that investment. Innovation for broadcasters has historically been about evolution in content and formats. However now, more than ever, innovation in broadcasting is about distribution. Distribution, personalisation, interactivity, format, and of course content are all important elements of the cultural return.
The obvious example for the ABC is its work online. The core viewing experience of ABC TV’s primary content output is around a specific platform – free to air TV. The free to air platform and the financial support framework that hangs off it remain central to local content production. Despite some fragmentation due to digital multi-channelling, the strength of that platform, and the audiences it is able to aggregate, remains strong. What is malleable, however, is the ambient experience around content; the extra information, the interactive elements, the social aspects, and the ability to choose where and when it’s consumed. There is clearly a trend indicating some audiences are moving away from linear TV viewing and the linear TV platform. The platform must evolve, but at the same time broadcasters must meet audiences where they are going for their content.
The ABC’s catch-up viewing service, iview, is a prime example of innovation enabled by the Corporation’s status as a public media provider. Originally conceived as a simple catch-up service, iview has evolved in its functionality and utility to become one of the ABC’s core entertainment brands. As it has evolved as a platform, its success and the very particular nature of its audience has also helped define and inform its content offering. Innovation in platform and distribution has resulted in innovation in content propositions.
Iview offers a 14-day catch-up of programs that have been broadcast on the ABC. It was launched in July 2008, and since that time has witnessed truly remarkable growth and become the Australian market leader for catch-up.
Iview program plays are up from 10.8 million in August 2012 to 18 million plays in August 2013. Over the same period, active users have grown from 300,000 to over 700,000 on the iPhone and iPad apps alone, with over 1.5 million total users a month. Iview is currently available on 13 platforms, with the widely anticipated Android app arriving soon.
The catch-up utility of iview has been delivered with great success. The challenge now is to leverage that success to reach new audiences. The biggest users of iview are children. Via the iOS platform we know that 60 percent of all iview plays are for children’s programs. And the kinds of programs children like, especially pre-schoolers, are short form. Peppa Pig, Play School and Bananas in Pyjamas are consistently the most viewed programs.
Apps such as Art Maker and Playtime allow children to interact with their favourite TV characters, while at the same time demonstrating the enduring appeal of the original audio visual content. Children may interact with the app, but views of Play School via iOS skyrocketed after the Art Maker App was launched.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that certain programs lend themselves to viewing by specific demographics online. Younger adults in particular are an audience the ABC can try and reach through content developed specifically for the iview platform. In partnership with screen agencies like Screen Australia, the ABC is developing new programs for iview-only release. These programs will appeal to younger audiences, engage new film makers and include strong elements of interactivity.
Another crucial evolution of iview is the capacity to curate, prioritise and personalise content, and these are areas the iview team is developing. Iview puts elements of television programming in the hands of the audience - they can set up a watchlist, or vote for a program for the ABC to acquire for iview. As media consumption moves away from linear viewing, and the artificial platform boundaries erode, audiences will be presented with a vast number of viewing choices. Iview provides the ABC with a curation tool, and its audiences with a dynamic and easy-to-access interface.
These developments are both exciting and important. The platform is helping foster new creative ideas and talents. The platform is truly empowering audiences. The cultural return that a broadcaster like the ABC can deliver is grown in aggregate through commissions of local productions, cultivation of local business and local creativity.
With the increasing growth in online consumption and personalised viewing the ABC is working to remain a leader, and to meet audiences with compelling content where and when they want it. Online content offerings and the evolved platforms on which they are distributed have the potential to extend and multiply the ABC’s touch points with the Australian public. At the same time, evolved platforms have the potential to increase the audience impact on content offerings in a very direct way. For many media providers engaging with these platforms and new forms of creative output is a challenge. For the ABC, however, sensible risk-taking enables new formats and talents to reach new audiences, while allowing the Corporation to maintain its relevance, deliver on its Charter and create content that grows the Australian cultural experience.