In 2015, our beloved ABC has been battered from pillar to post. At the hands of the conservative right, under Abbott, and their long-held desire to clear the decks of the hotbed of leftist bias they believe the ABC harbours, the ABC has had it’s budgets cut, consequently seen staff made redundant, it’s editorial objectivity challenged and it’s MD in front of senate estimates committees to defend his management and organisation’s objectivity. Any way you look at it, it’s been a pretty tough year. Before we get all soft and teary eyed in their support however, we must also note that it is #OurABC which has failed to deliver a single Windows Phone App – and not officially brought it’s market-leading iView service to any app platform in the Microsoft ecosystem. Well now it’s time for change at the ABC – and that change may even bring us closer, finally, to a fair an un-blinkered approach to app development for non ios/android devices.
Rather than re-hash the many articles here covering the biased and unprofessional handling by the ABC of support for the 3rd major mobile OS for new smartphone sales here in Australia (search the archives folks) – let’s focus on where the ABC’s immediate future is, and what this must mean for their outlook and strategy into their platform, content and licensing plans…and for those of us who are invested in Microsoft’s ecosystem. Insider sources have confirmed to WPDownUnder that the budget cuts at the ABC have also been felt in the ABC Innovation and iView departments. Both of these areas are responsible for the bulk of mobile/web apps for ABC content. This has resulted in fewer ABC resources to work on maintaining the required release cycle, updates and maintenance of existing apps – let alone new apps. You can read more about the development of these departments and the ABC online origins in “Hidden Innovation: Policy, Industry and the Creative Sector” by Stuart Cunningham, Distinguished Professor of Media and Communications Queensland University of Technology. He discusses the early attempts “on the smell of an oily rag” to commence the vision of an online and pre-emptive digital ABC. However, with the base-load of their digital content distribution now in place, cuts and commercial and political pressure on the ABC and the shrinking of these departments is placing increasing pressure on the ABC.
Unlike SBS, they did not choose to place their audience and reach as the principle basis for their strategy online. SBS delivered Microsoft ecosystem apps, putting their content on the maximum devices, to the maximum possible audience reach. Windows 10, Xbox One and Windows Phone apps, working with Microsoft to use their far limited budget by comparison to OurABC to get their content out there. However by not developing MS eco apps, the ABC (iView being the no.1 television/media stream service in Australia) placed pressure on the marketplace to fill their void – and in two instances independent community developed iView unofficial clients were released, then shut down by formal ABC copyright requests literally within hours of the apps becoming publicly available. And this was despite them ignoring for ~12 month+ (before their official app release AND after) the Android unofficial app which was in the Google Play store.
Now – the ABC finds it’s current model of in-house App development and management under increasing pressure, driving up ROI economic justifications for every $ spent on apps. Furthermore, with diminishing resources, these resources are also held “ransom” to maintaining the release and maintenance cycle of their iOS and Android apps – which their official announcements page demonstrates. Monthly App update cycles for their iOS App for iView, bug and performance management issues across multiple platforms – and pressures on time and cost places them in a constant predicament of retiring support and compatibility of older OEM devices or web platforms.
Further evidence of the increasing pressure these areas are under with their current strategy and growing limitations is the launch of their XboxOne iView App. Announced as “coming” by the ABC in NOV 2014, despite a far quicker release cycle for the new PS4 console, today, 10 months later – the internally (ABC) developed Xbox One App remains unfinished and unreleased. One can only speculate on the stage it is at – however with no limited pvt public trial (that we are aware of), the App is clearly overcooked….and has suffered for the changing circumstances within the ABC. We can only hope whatever issues or constraints there are at the ABC holding this up (glib jokes aside of this project sitting with the work experience kid) are promptly resolved and the App released. In the meantime, it is damning that we can change our region to UK, use a DNS service and use the wonderful BBCiPlayer App to watch hot-off-the-press BBC content….
So where to next? What could the ABC do to turn around the contraction in it’s ability to innovate and broaden it’s reach in it’s digital platforms – despite the government led and Murdoch backed attacks on it’s independence, funding and very “free” (tax payer funded) operation in competition to “traditional” – or dinosaur media in Australia.
Well hot-of-the-press…..the BBC today announced what could be a pre-cursor for what Mark Scott may also see as the revitalised path forward in defence of a gradual decline and erosion of the place the ABC has forged for itself in Australia.
By becoming more open. By far the easiest criticism to make of the ABC here in Australia is that it is a closed shop. Both in culture and operation, the organisation is both highly critical towards, defensive of and dismissive about any criticism of it’s operation. In our own experience over recent years, across FOI requests, meetings and correspondence with ABC management etc – whilst when forced to they present the appearance of an open and engaging structure, the organisation quickly displays an unwillingness to really consider – or act on – any feedback or ideas at odds with their proscribed views and comfortable assumptions, processes and procedures. So to adapt and change to future demands, the ABC at once finds itself as a victim of it’s own success and achievements to date, and increasing pressures as we have described.
Director-General of the BBC, Tony Hall states in todays announcement of changes in the UK:
“These proposals are about creating an open, more distinctive BBC. An open BBC that works in partnership for the good of Britain at home and abroad. An open BBC that helps secure the future of public service broadcasting and upholds democracy both at a local and an international level.
“The BBC must modernise to preserve and enhance what is best about public service broadcasting to ensure we continue to have a BBC that is British, bold and creative.
“A better BBC, for everyone.”
Now some of their announcements are behind – or catch-up – on strategies Our ABC already has delivered on in full – or part (kids programming, website reviews and improvements, local content maximisation etc) – but one key one stands out.
“Opening up BBC iPlayer to showcase content from others…..And in particular I would like to introduce you to our idea of an Open BBC for the internet age. A BBC that is truly open to partnership – working much closer with others for the good of the nation. And a BBC that is more open to our audiences too…..I now want to experiment with the BBC issuing bigger and bolder series all at once on iPlayer, so viewers have the option of ‘binge watching’.
The iPlayer helped create a market, and others followed with successful players of their own. But the result is that consumers have to search across many different video players. And Britain is losing out to global players, who are busy building platforms that could become gatekeepers to British content.
We want to explore new opportunities to help bring original British content together, to help audiences and industry alike make the most of this opportunity to support our cultural crown jewels. Our aim would be simple – to increase the traffic to, and investment in, original British content.
At its heart would be a free offer, with BBC content funded from the licence fee. We would also aim to make it possible to buy and keep programmes, as we’re doing with BBC Store.
One possible route is to use iPlayer, which we will put at the service of the sector, using its brand, technology and reach. But there are other ideas too, all of which we want to discuss and agree with partners.
But the ambition is clear: a platform for Britain’s creativity, and an even better experience for UK audiences.” Link to full speech.
So opening up their content licensing agreements for more platforms, more devices and more audience is a start. Working closely with partners (not combative or defensive or adversarial reactions) to maximise reach and manage the changed resource environment at the ABC is essential. And transitioning from a closed-shop, in-house outlook – eradicating old prejudices and bias towards preferred platform partners – can facilitate this change. In a further hint that the direction the BBC are moving in may also be part of the future strategy for Our ABC, a very recent job advertisement at ABC Television/Careers is fascinating.
This role sets out a number of interesting strategic objectives and administrative functions for iView and the ABC:
- Drive the development and delivery of new video products, and establish and maximise syndication opportunities, in order to improve access to iview, increase the reach of ABC TV and create greater value and efficiencies from partnerships.
- Gather and analyse market and user research to identify opportunities, trends and insights which inform product design and distribution.
- Plan, track and manage product scope, issues, risks, timelines and budget.
- Produce and manage project documentation including business cases, project plans and functional specifications in consultation with relevant teams and stakeholders
- Manage relationships with internal and external stakeholders including third party platform and technology partners throughout the entire development life-cycle, keeping abreast of vendor products and roadmaps, and ensuring adherence of the ABC’s syndication policies.
- Establish and drive a roadmap for the ABC iview API in alignment with the broader iview Product Roadmap, ensuring continuous improvement in managed release cycles and communication of the roadmap with platform partners.
- Work with cross-functional teams (Editorial, Design, Technical, Testing, Digital Network) to gather and communicate detailed requirements and user stories to developers, using appropriate tools.
It appears that this role will play a key part in both supervising and delivering possible expansion of 3rd party outsourced app and web development for ABC services. In both a positive and worrying (was this NOT being done before?) public statement, this job description talks about creating and managing an API strategy “…in conjunction with platform partners”. Could this mean that there is going to be a 3rd party developer path to create and partner App developments for ABC platforms? Has this already begun? If so – it is a huge boost towards the possibility of Universal Windows Apps, ported iOS/Android apps or some amalgam for Windows 10 based systems (desktop and mobile).
Further hints in this job add support a belief that Our ABC may soon be following a similar public path to the BBC announcements in the past 24 hours. And quite frankly ABC……It’s well past time.
We remain optimistic that the old ABC may soon be changing, and soon the structures and policies may be in place for those individuals in the ABC who in the past have stymied Microsoft OS App/Platform support of ABC services to finally see that it is #OurABCToo.