#ourABC – Now you see it, Now you don’t. Part 2: #OurABCToo

ourABCrebrand2

It would seem that #ourABC embraces it’s audience equally – unless you are a Windows Phone user in this country. Not just content to have us as second class citizens, the ABC has made an exclusion zone of Australia for any Windows Phone official access of ABC TV and Radio content. This means that an ever increasing amount of Aussie smartphone owners are locked out of accessing the ABC’s licensed content – in direct conflict with the ABC’s own charter.

And as we will go on to show our readers, this week they would appear to have not only demonstrated their inconsistency in how they view and approach the major smartphone platforms, but also by their actions have left the ABC open to questions of bias, discrimination and even competence around their iView and Innovation department management of Windows Phone.

If you missed Part 1 – you should check it out. It has some important background to this week’s latest events in the unfolding saga of the ABC, iView and Windows Phone.

As we set out in our earlier post, the ABC has a long history of ignoring Windows Phone as a platform in Australia, not even bothering to seriously consider it for expanding their App services too. Despite YOY growth in the Asia-Pacific region of >100%, market share now approaching the 10% mark in Australia and strong enterprise and business sales, the ABC has consistently refused to engage with windows phone users on it’s mobile services. Despite the fact that there are more Windows Phones in-market in Australia now than there were iPhones when they launched their first iOS App….

Presently the ABC have no intentions, plans, strategy or roadmap to introduce apps like iView to Windows Phone. A reasonable person could therefore reach the conclusion that, with this being the case, independent developers should be able to create their own WP unofficial Apps for the growing number of users locked out by the ABC. A streaming only client on the secure Windows Phone OS (locked down by it’s very design) – using existing ABC API’s, developed at no cost or use of ABC resources in the current climate of an organisation facing the prospect of cutbacks by an incoming Liberal government looks like a win-win prospect. The ABC grows it’s audience/viewing-user base, Windows Phone users get an App and are no longer disadvantaged compared to their iOS and Android peers. What’s not to like about that?

Well – this week, for a matter of what may have ultimately only been for a few hours, this was the case as welcomed, albeit briefly, to the Windows Phone Store in Australia; iView FTW!

iviewftw_store

SheedsTweetOn Wednesday, a keen-eyed WPDU reader alerted us to the fact that they had discovered an unofficial iView App for WP8.1 in the Australian store. Naturally, given our long history advocating for this eventuality (official or unofficial) – we began alerting the Aussie WP community of this event.

The App was also launched in the Windows 8 store at the same time, most likely using some of the benefits in development of Microsoft’s new Universal App system.

iviewftw_Screenies

The app was basic – not having Live Tiles or some of the other unique WP platform features – however it was fully-functional, with smooth swipe and transition UI effects and accessing the full range of ABC iView channels/content areas. Like the official App on Android and iOS, it was a stream-only App, with no capability for downloading and saving the video streamed. Everything looked great.

…..for the few hours that it lasted.

Later the same day, in what must have just been a few hours hours since the App was discovered in the store, it was pulled from both the Windows Phone and Windows 8 stores. Probably following a “takedown” notice initiated by the ABC – although they refused to confirm to WPDU whether they had issued one when asked by us this week.

Subsequent to the App being removed, WPDU discovered that the Developer was a Microsoft Australia employee who had released it in his own name, presumably in his own time as developer. This was quickly captured by the register.co.uk, who reported on the situation with some commentary from both Microsoft and the ABC in a rapidly escalating situation.

WPDU then followed up from a meeting we held with Rebecca Heap, Head of TV Strategy & Digital Products and representatives from ABC Innovation and Corporate Affairs last week on the case for ABC Australia developing an iView App for Windows Phone users by asking them a number of formal questions on this matter:

  1. Did the ABC formally request or initiate a request to Microsoft that the App be removed/taken down from both the Windows Phone &/or Windows Stores?
  2. If so – how (and under what public T&C) did the ABC base this request?
  3. If so, was it a prompt (it was the same day the community became aware the App was out) and proactive action by the ABC to protect their content providers copyright?
  4. Did the iviewftw Windows Phone App (which was stream only per the official App) breach any public or private ABC guidelines, and can the ABC share those breach specifics with me?
  5. Is there an onus on the ABC through their content agreements and services like iView to proactively and effectively protect copyright – and how is this related to unofficial/official Apps as per the example yesterday of iviewftw?

Late Friday night, WPDU received a reply from ABC Australia. Rebecca confirmed (in line with prior public statements made to The Register);

“The ABC was aware of an app in the marketplace providing unofficial access to iView content, and is investigating this matter

The ABC is obliged to take reasonable action to ensure iView content is used within the rights we acquire

At present, the rights that we acquire do not allow for distribution of iView content outside of ABC-approved services”

If, as suspected, the ABC were behind the take-down requests in the marketplaces, then the ABC did indeed take incredibly prompt action in “protecting their content”. Of course, what’s also evident from this week’s events is that unlike some of it’s competitors, Microsoft’s App marketplaces for phone and tablet/PC have an extremely efficient and effective process for content providers and copyright holders to deal with or investigate any possible concerns over potentially infringing Apps. This is to Microsoft’s credit.

However this matter doesn’t – and shouldn’t end there. Let’s examine for a moment what the ABC has told us. Let’s look at their words….and let us consider their actions in relation to Windows Phone in contrast to other examples the ABC has shown us.

Forget for the moment the fact that a WP developer – in their spare time without any $ funding/budget – can create a functional, fluid and platform consistent UI for streaming-only iView content to WP8.1 devices. Put to one side that this makes a mockery of the fact that the ABC has not initiated any sort of ROI, feasibility or study into the merits of releasing an App for Australian WP users and that our own FOI request confirmed that no strategy, plans or analysis had been commenced or previously undertaken on WP service delivery.

What has our ABC shown us through how it has dealt with another smartphone platform which was also deprived of an official App for their devices until almost the end of 2013. What other precedents exist one asks?

aview_android

Meet aview.

When WPDU compared the Android experience, this little App (still in the store at the time of writing) jumped out at us. aview is an unofficial iView App with identical streaming-only access to the full range of ABC iView content as iviewftw offered briefly on Windows Phone. Furthermore, it first hit the Google Play store back in July 2013! This means it was available in Google’s phone and tablet App store for almost 5 months before the ABC launched their own official App in December 2013! It now has a lazy 10,000+ downloads and it’s average rating of 4.5 stars actually beats the official ABC App on the same platform!

Yes folks, that’s 5 months. Not 5 hours and a takedown notice! Still being in the store today – that means a total of almost 12 months that this unofficial App has been available, and almost 7 months alongside the ABC official App for Android, which was launched with fanfare and quotes such as

“The first version of the Android app ensures Australian audiences never miss a moment of their favourite ABC TV programs, with access to iview on a wider range of portable devices.”

So on a quick checklist on the above replies from the ABC:

  1. The ABC was aware of an app in the marketplace providing unofficial access to iView content, and is investigating this matter. Hard to miss an Android Unofficial App for 12 months. Gizmodo and other sites covered it. WPDU knows the ABC track device stats and delivery mechanisms. The anonymous Developer even discusses this in an interview with Ausdroid the month after it’s launch.
  2. The ABC is obliged to take reasonable action to ensure iView content is used within the rights we acquire. What – if any – action have they taken against aview/Google Store? We suspect nil. Or at least nothing that has resulted in the App being taken down. This was also discussed in the Ausdroid interview (link in Q1).
  3. At present, the rights that we acquire do not allow for distribution of iView content outside of ABC-approved services. This is at best misleading – and could potentially be perceived as an outright lie. The presence of the Android unofficial App aview directly challenges this statement by the ABC – unless the ABC can demonstrate this is an ABC approved service.

The ABC’s own charter/guidelines/FAQ state that “The ABC seeks to make its publicly funded iview service available on third party devices and platforms wherever the public choose to consume media content”. Furthermore “Use of third party applications that allow downloadable versions of ABC iview programs is therefore unauthorised and not supported in any way.”

The aview App meets both of the above criteria. So does the iviewftw WP8.1 App. Why is one in the store with apparent complete inaction by the ABC – and the other is withdrawn in mere hours following discovery by the public. One could seemingly make the case the ABC is discriminating against one platform over the other.

If they have not released an official App for WP, and have no current plans to develop an official Windows Phone App for iView (and other ABC services) – why do they not provide a process for 3rd parties to develop an App? In the absence of committing to a platform in line with their charter, why in all the months of WPDU engagement, and pro-active raising of this with the ABC in dialogue and FOI process has the ABC not made any comment or suggestion in this area?

In the case of aview – to make matters worse for the ABC’s position, this App is on Github – with freely available and open source code for any developer to create a replica or similar app based on the code

Is this a question of bias, discrimination – or just incompetence on their part? Is their reaction an emotional and defensive action against the sudden presence of an unofficial Windows Phone App, which met stream-only criteria, functioned well and made a mockery of A) their lack of proper assessment of Windows Phone as an App Platform and B) that one could be created with no budget, funding and just a single developer’s spare time. Where is the ABC’s prompt and obligatory action in the case of aview to protect their copyright holders licensed content from third party services?

How ironic that the ABC’s rebrand launched this month of “#ourABC” emphasises “the role it plays in all of our lives – it’s about inclusion, togetherness and connection.” – or so ABC PR would have us believe.

“Throw your arms around us”, the new #ourABC theme for 2014 would seem to Windows Phone users to be more of a cold shoulder, slap in the face and raised finger by ABC Australia to us all. It’s #ourABCToo Mark Scott.

Sheeds.

We will be putting the extra questions raised in this article to the ABC, in particular Rebecca Heap, for additional comment. If you wish to add your voice on the matter of iView/Windows Phone Apps by #ourABC – you can direct them to:

Rachel Fergus
Senior Publicist TV Marketing & Communications
T. 02 8333 5085 E. [email protected]

  • http://www.merill.net/ Merill Fernando

    As a tax payer this is very annoying. If ABC is so incompetent that they cannot produce their own app they should at allow other apps to exist. SBS is doing a much better job. Lets fund them.

  • valves tech

    Hi Sheeds, fascinating pair of articles, ABC are not the only ones who have this massively blinkered attitude and it frustrates the beejusus out of me but they are the only ones funded by my taxes which is inexcusable, I have a personal WP 7.8 phone (About to go to 8.1) plus a compulsory company issued Android work phone and I know which one I prefer each and every day.

    OOI
    Has this data been forwarded to Minister Turnbull?

  • Keifwoki

    Well said! Come on ABC.. How many people own Windows 8 computers these days? Takes barely any effort at all to get an app functioning on Windows phone 8 and Windows 8 (as proven). These guys and the CFA (fire ready app) need to pull their head out of their asses and realize that people with iPhones also use PC’s and people with Windows Phones also use Mac’s!

  • Husky65

    The above article is funny, starting with – “It would seem that #ourABC embraces it’s audience equally” what nonsense, the ABC has gone so far off of its legislated requirement to provide balanced news and current affairs (the charter) with its wild swing to the left, that ignoring a small segment of the smartphone market is trivial. I wish you well in your efforts, but frankly, I’d rather see the ABC closed – IMO it simply cannot be saved.

  • Cravon

    #abc discriminates against 82,000 Australians using their own tax dollars to do it.