Two economic paradoxes of our time: Part two – ABC 2.0

In a recent post I argued that “Over the very time we were clearing away the detritus of the various collectivist institutions we cobbled together under the name of the Australian Settlement, or ‘protection all round’, while we proceeded with economic reform by deregulating markets to try to optimise the contribution of competitive forces, a whole range of things turned up in the in tray which were in effect new and very important public goods (or bads) – which markets might be expected to deal with badly.”

Although this is part two to that earlier post it also stands on its own – and was written in response to a request from Michael Duffy to discuss the future of the ABC on his program Counterpoint – this was in the context of an earlier discussion with him in which I argued that the ABC should try to be true to its role as a provider of public goods, but that it should take that mission into the wired world, or perhaps we should now be calling it ‘Wireless 2.0’.

So this post is about how the ABC might do that. And at the outset I should say firstly that my comments are based on what I know best – which is overwhelmingly Radio National and that I’m an admirer of the ABC. I admire what it’s done in the past, and I think it is one of the best national broadcasters in the world at least for the funding it receives (though that statement is obviously based on greater exposure to the ABC than any other broadcaster.) And I think at least until very recently the ABC has done as well as any national broadcaster I know to get into the digital (podcasting) age. But it could do more . . .

The ABC has always been a public good – provided via broadcasting. But now it’s a much more powerful public good as podcasting has relaxed two major restrictions on its ‘public goodness’.

  • First the ABC is now a global public good (albeit of higher average unit value to Australians than to foreigners) and
  • Second the ABC is no longer a time dependent public good. Podcasting allows indefinite time shifting at negligible cost.

So at least unless there’s a ‘part three’ to this post (this is almost inevitable and a part four and five and so on, but they may not turn up here quickly and they may not be called parts three four and five) this search for policy ideas for the ABC is obviously on a much more micro scale than the grand themes sketched out in part one of the post. Nevertheless the ideas might be seen as illustrative of possibilities elsewhere.

In any event I hope the ‘grand themes’ of part one are not entirely out of place, because the first recommendation from the line of inquiry in this post is obvious enough – you can’t podcast enough.

Recommendation One: The ABC should as soon as practicable and affordable post its entire archive on the web for downloading by whomever wishes to download it – and keep the cost of doing so down with the P2P capabilities of BitTorrent.

It has to make an exception where it buys material in and cannot secure the rights to podcast. And it might want to make an exception where there is a good chance of making a good commercial return. But it should do so in full realisation of how much value is lost once the first cent is charged – on account of the transactions costs involved. And for goodness sake, how much does it make from the Boyer Lectures by charging $2.95 or whatever it charged for them last time it tried? And why routinely block the podcasting of poems and plays. Hard to believe they’re financial bonanzas waiting to happen. (I guess the reason is the rights of the publishers, but here’s hoping the ABC throws its weight around a little more in negotiations on behalf it its ability to supply these public goods to the world.

In the same spirit, it should embrace creative commons licensing as widely as it can. Could it not hold open ‘acquisitive’ competitions for things like designs and (music) themes for programs. By ‘acquisitive’ I have in mind that the ABC acquires the copyright which immediately donates, if not to the commons, then at least distributes under creative commons licensing.

And mightn’t the ABC be a micro-laboratory for trying to get the public sector to maximise the production of useful public goods. If it did, mightn’t it do things a little differently – or at least reorder its priorities.

Recommendation Two: Embrace openness in discussing programs. The ABC doesn’t do a bad job. It has internet guest books and discussion sites for most of its programs. But I think it could do quite a bit more. The blogs or guest books are not very visible, and at least on the ones I’ve seen, there’s not much sense of collegiality and discussion – it’s more in the spirit of ‘writing in’, letting off steam and perhaps being chosen to be read out on the radio.

Nothing wrong with that, but these ‘guest books’ could be revamped to have some collegiality – between presenters, producers, others in the ABC if they wished, and listeners and of course between listeners. I think each major program on Radio National should have its own ‘friends of’ support group – Friends of LNL, Friends of Counterpoint etc. It would be de rigueur for there to be a blog around the program.  Trusted ‘friends’ would moderate the blog and perhaps come to run the blog. Perhaps there could be a program once every few months with a panel discussion with people who’ve been identified as the most interesting from the Friends of LNL in one state or another. (In fact as I was thinking about this post, I heard the ABC already trying something a bit like this on Life Matters where I heard a ‘Meet the listener’ segment – which was very successful I thought.)  Still there’s a subtle but profound difference between having the the web discussion as a kind of adjunct to the program as we do now, and instead having the program as just perhaps the most important part of a larger conversation – in which the website and a genuine blog were central to the discussion, and to the exetended intelligence of the endeavour.

Recommendation Three: As part of this there would be openness in planning programs. The public should be invited into program planning via Web 2.0. The shows (already existing) websites could foreshadow possible and planned programs. This would enable commenters to suggest talent for various discussions, they could thrash through some of the arguments in a particular area and suggest angles they’d like covered, (and furphies they’d like tackled if they reared their heads).

Though programs ought to be able to be appreciated by people who hadn’t been to the website, there might be pre-reading or pre-surfing for those who were interested – as there is on the various ABC Radio and TV ‘book clubs’.

We’re learning how much great ‘content’ is out there from ‘civil society’ – people like you and me tapping away. Would it be useful if part of the ABCs effort and funding went to trying to get the best out of this? I think so. One would need to be careful and experiment on a small scale to see what worked and what didn’t.

I’m not sure that I’d do much with the blogosphere which seems to run itself relatively well, though the ABC should certainly cover it a bit more and use it as a source of talent more than they do. I’ve tried to get this happening but without much success. Even some of the ABC’s best presenters – like Geraldine Doogue – don’t really seem to ‘get it’. Perhaps she doesn’t get it because she’s in another world. (No criticism intended there – I think Geraldine is great and you can’t be across everything, especially things that don’t grab you.) Perhaps the answer is to invite blogdom, or Web 2.0 to present it’s own program, or to get in a presenter or two who’s more familiar with the genre. Here’s an idea – give Peter Martin a job doing ‘the economics report’. He’s a blogger, and a broadcast journo of standing and experience.

Though I think it would be best (at least at the start) with a half hour program, if one had to pick something to take off can we please remove ‘New Dimensions‘ from ABC Radio National? I think this is really the only program on the ABC that raises the prospect of violence from listeners. I know that it is a program of such fascinating horribleness that, like The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, it must have its cult followers meeting in dark rooms with incest incense somewhere, but they can podcast it now from across the Pacific Ocean. Why they can even surf their way to the New Dimensions Cafe.

Be that as it may, it seems to me that the ABC could do a lot to access the best from community radio, bloggers, citizen journalists and so on. There are any number of ways that this could be done. It’s surprising that blogging has thrown up only one substantial new find for the MSM – Tim Dunlop (please fill me in with comments below if I’ve missed someone as I probably have).

Recommendation Four: The ABC should scour the resources of Web 2.0 and community broadcasting more fully both in Australia and elsewhere with a view both to bringing them to greater MSM prominence and also to supporting their growth.

I’d like to see the ABC make a more concerted effort to be part of the leaven with which the great broadcasters of the future are discovered. Of course we have a fairly vibrant community broadcasting scene and I guess you could say that’s their role. But I don’t listen to community radio because of all the dross I have to end up listening to. I’d like to see the ABC pick the eyes out of this – a bad image because it should strengthen the sector with its recognition and attention and perhaps with some prizes and so on.

I’m not too sure about TV, but I find it hard to imagine that the ABC couldn’t run some great ‘best of community radio’ programs on Radio National and on local radio to the benefit of ABC radio listeners and also the producers of those programs. And of course in addition to community radio, there are private podcasting initiatives popping up in Australia. The ABC should help its audience know about them, and publicise the best they produce. As Web 2.0 is showing us, it’s amazing what people will do if they think people are listening to what they’re saying. People like me.

Recommendation Five: The ABC used to have a mentality that things had to be produced ‘in house’. That seems to be over in television, though I suspect it’s not over in radio. Could they buy in programs (I’m talking of programs produced in Australia)? I would have thought so. Perhaps they do.

As I understand it there are some pretty well paid stars at the ABC. Good on them I guess, and perhaps there’s a case for this if one needs the stars. But there are lots of other good people that don’t do too well. In an age of scarce finance, the comfort of the tenured pushes bad pay and conditions to those who are not so privileged.

Recommendation Six: In the age of web 2.0 I think the ABC should at least experiment with trying to engage more volunteers. I guess there would be cultural issues within the organisation if core jobs were done by volunteers, but add on services might be so done. Friends of LNL or Counterpoint blogs might be run by volunteers – of course they could be run right now on an unofficial basis, but a bit of official encouragement mightn’t hurt. And the friends might organise to do transcripts and that kind of thing. (I’d send them off to schools doing typing and so on, and then get them proofed by official ‘friends’). Guests might be asked to provide lists of links and so on – though this is done to some extent already.

Anyway, I would as always be interested in any response readers have, and most particularly in any ways these ideas might be extended, or examples from Australia or elsewhere that might help illustrate or extend these ideas.

Postscript: The show this post was a preparation for can now be seen and listened to here (for the next four weeks at least, in the absence of a change of policy – which was kind of the point of the exercise).

This entry was posted in Economics and public policy, Films and TV, Media. Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Two economic paradoxes of our time: Part two – ABC 2.0

  1. Robert says:

    Shooting off the top, and having been invited by the big, important use of ABC logo:

    a) Nicholas Gruen confused some people with a definition of ‘paradox’;

    b) Nicholas Gruen is now going to let some people down;

    c) Nicholas Gruen is then going to tell us why:

    d) “Because it was in the process of writing what will become this post that I wrote the first part as an introduction”. (Right, thanks for that, whatever that means.)

    e) “And now I realise that some people will think that part one over-promises.” (Ok; glad you’re on top of it. That’s the most important thing?)

    But, wanting to read further, I’m paralysed by now. Sorry mate, that’s as far as I got. Is it a fair question to ask: does this take gold prize for the worst opening paragraph?

  2. Yobbo says:

    I’m especially looking forward to seeing what other economists, professors, high-ranking public servants and other assorted upper-middle class people think they should spend our taxes on for their enjoyment.


    How about subsidising Penfold’s Grange or a government-sponsored $5000 cash-back on every purchase of new Peugeot 607?

  3. Tony Healy says:

    Nicholas, one of the reaons the ABC is so good is that it has a relentless approach to professionalism, especially in journalism. It has very high standards in selecting and preparing stories and programs, and in rejecting attempts at manipulation by corporations and single issue nut jobs.

    That is the direct antithesis of your recommendations to include amateurs, and also of one of your earlier posts where you cited the ABC as an example of a public goood like Wikipedia. The ABC is the exact opposite of Wikipedia.

    If you want to discuss ABC programs or make suggestions, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that now.

  4. Patrick says:

    I thought that was much better than part I!

    Interesting that you don’t discuss the BBC – obviously their circumstances are different but they do have an enormous web presence. What made me think most of the BBC was this line:

    First the ABC is now a global public good (albeit of higher average unit value to Australians than to foreigners) and

    The BBC provides some hundreds of thousands of viewing hours free to UK residents but not to foreigners. Their system is very restrictive and the only way I could get around it with my very limited IT knowledge would be to have a UK friend who would let me share their internet connection, basically.

    Tony, I think NG is aware of that, but is hoping to improve that ‘vetting’ and ‘screening’ by increasing the range of expertise brought to bear on it. A lot of the ‘amateurs’ referred to are actually experts by any reasonable standard – the real ‘amateurs’ are ABC staff who are experts in journalism and sometimes one or two other fields.

    Also, I assume that even you support his broad enthusiasm for making everything available online and free?

  5. Kevin Cox says:


    On the question of funding why not base part of the funding on usage, podcasts downloaded, digital content used, schools using the programs, user content generated etc. but instead of the individuals paying money for content it comes from the government. We know that the public good is related in part from how much the system is used.

    This would encourage volunteer content as with Wikipedia and Open Source software because people know that their work is valued by the community and the rest of the community will pay through their taxes for the volunteers work but for the greater good.

    There may be a better way of expressing it but make the transactions by individuals seem “fair”. Those like Yobbo can always contribute and make us pay for his views:) so he can hardly complain.

  6. David Coles says:

    one of the reaons the ABC is so good is that it has a relentless approach to professionalism, especially in journalism. It has very high standards in selecting and preparing stories and programs, and in rejecting attempts at manipulation by corporations and single issue nut jobs.

    I am just a listener but I have been doing that for over 50 years so at least have experience.

    A’relentless approach to professionalism’ only really works where ‘professionalism’ is something that delivers value to the listener. The current approach of some ABC journalism seems to me to be relentless in its pursuit of negativism. Perhaps it is drawing too long a bow but this seems to be part of a drive by the ABC to show that can be more critical, more of an opposition than the opposition – in any jurisdiction. I expect more intelligence in news and analysis or at least more awareness of reallity.

    The ideas in this post aren’t all good but they do put up some ideas that could allow the ABC to continue as the nation’s public broadcaster and keep views such as those expressed by Yobbo firmly in the minority.

  7. NPOV says:

    Yobbo, a huge slab of the ABC’s market are “working families” with kids. Even with a wide range of pay-TV options and a large collection of DVD’s, we still have the ABC kids programming on for at least an hour a day, often more.

    There’s not yet been a single poll I’m aware showing any significant portion of the population being unhappy with taxes being used to fund the ABC (and indeed, a majority would prefer to see more funding given to it).

    It would be interesting to see if there was an opt-out option (i.e. you could chose to opt out of paying 10 cents a day in tax towards the ABC, and some of technology was put in place to ensure you weren’t free-riding) how many would actually take it up. Of course, I’d also like the ability to opt-out of paying for advertising on the commercial free-to-air channels (of which I watch maybe an hour a week).

  8. Tony Healy says:

    I think NG is aware of that, but is hoping to improve that vetting and screening by increasing the range of expertise brought to bear on it. A lot of the amateurs referred to are actually experts by any reasonable standard – the real amateurs are ABC staff who are experts in journalism and sometimes one or two other fields.

    If that’s the case, Nicholas shouldn’t be worried, as he and other “experts” can publish to their heart’s content and attract huge audiences without input from the ABC. On the other hand, perhaps there is actually a considerable body of expertise involved in professional media, far beyond simple subject matter expertise.

    Also, I assume that even you support his broad enthusiasm for making everything available online and free?

    That’s a silly claim. The ABC is just as interested in having high audiences as everyone, and provides a lot of material free, but they have to balance that against the cost of providing access, which is not free.

    Also, I notice Nicholas doesn’t support free mortgages, which his company provides.

  9. Kevin Cox says:


    Your suggestion on optout is available and technology is available to stop freeloaders in some areas where the interaction with the ABC is over the Internet. Importantly this can be done anonymously. This is much the same problem as anonymous electronic voting and through appropriate separation of functionality across organisations it can be done. It is an interesting challenge but technically operationally and economically feasible.

    This functionality is not only relevant to the ABC but also for other public goods.

  10. Ken Parish says:

    What a pathetically negative comment thread, at least so far. We can ignore Yobbo, because it’s just his usual kneejerk “libertarian” silliness, and probably “Robert” whose comment is just pointlessly nasty, but where is Tony Healey coming from?

    The suggestion of making ABC programming available for podcast (except the stuff with obvious immediate resale prospects) would appear self-evidently worthy of serious consideration. Notice Peter Martin’s column (highlighted in today’s ML) which observes that the music industry is enjoying record sales partly as a result of illegal downloads building a cult following and then often a mass audience for its product. Surely it makes sense for the ABC to deliberately foster a similar phenomenon, especially when much of its product currently sits in archives with little or no prospect of generating resale income.

    As for facilitating “amateur” participation (e.g. bloggers) in radio and TV, as Patrick points out many bloggers and other “amateurs” are in fact considerably more expert in their own fields than any ABC professional journalist. Moreover, I don’t think Nicholas is suggesting that amateurs simply be let loose on TV or radio without mediation or imposition of editing and production values. Surely that’s a large part of the point. The commercial MSM still seems obsessed with denigrating bloggers and “citizen journalism” (because it sees them as a threat to its profitable monopoly) whereas the ABC should be seizing the opportunities presented by all this extraordinary free content by adding value to it and making it accessible to a much wider market. That’s what Missing Link attempts to do in its own small way, but the ABC could achieve so much more.

    As for Tony’s spurious comparison with offering free mortgages, Nicholas’s business Peach Mortgages DOES in fact offer to share lender’s commissions with borrowers.

  11. Jeez,

    What a stroppy lot.

    I think you’ll be hard pressed to find an example of where I’ve said that the ABC should drop its standards – or more to the point where I’ve suggested anything that would necessarily lead to a reduction of standards.

    I suggested a bunch of techniques – mostly from Web 1.0 (distributing ABC content) and Web 2.0 (helping create it) which would add to the efficiency and diversity with which it does both things. Why that involves any diminution of standards is beyond me.

    You’ll notice that in the areas where I talked about more diverse content, I spoke of broadcasting ‘the best of’ and of encouraging the best to emerge. There’s no show on the ABC from a union point of view. None from educationist’s point of view – though there’s e-pod which is just a collection of content on education. No show on business or entrepreneurs – at least on Radio National that I can think of.

    I don’t think there should be such dedicated shows, but surely, for instance over the summer when we’re subjected to all those ‘best of’ series, we could have ‘best of’ collections of stuff available from community and web broadcasting. And uploading the ABC’s archive makes the ‘best of’ summers pretty redundant. If people want to listen to the best of the ABC for the year, they can podcast it.

    And naturally it goes without saying that to the extent that the ABC has high standards it should use the techniques to lift rather than lower them.

    The paranoia with which the ideas have been met (I’m thinking particularly of Tony Healy’s response) is nevertheless instructive. There’s a set of reflexes that are defensive of the public sector which reach for all sorts of associations.

    Less hierarchical control => lower standards.
    Volunteers’ => amateurs.
    Job security, tenure etc => political independence and high standards.
    Contractors => low standards.

    Etc etc.

    I’d be defending standards, I’d want them raised. But I wouldn’t be defending these old chestnuts.

  12. Nic – I’d agree that New Dimensions runs a serious risk of causing someone to drive a truck through the front doors of the ABC – probably me.

    The ABC Radio National is already timeshifting. I’d estimate that more than 80% of current content is pre-recorded and does not go out live. So podcasting is a no brainer.

    The ABC RN has a ready source of new (or one or two off) presenters with experience by using stuff from Community Radio – at the moment between midnight and dawn is repeats – sometimes 3 repeats a week. There are repeats during the day too. Midnight to dawn is the ideal time to run new or experimental stuff.

    ABC local radio in Melbourne at least is largely a waste of effort and dominated by “guest co-presenters”, self referential chit chat, sports, sports, sports and sports, and psuedo controversial talk back “issues”. ABC local actually works outside of the large metro as it does deliver on local regional issues.

  13. News or Parliament radio is a waste of bandwidth at the moment. If, for reasons I can never understand, the ABC should broadcast sport then it should be tossed over to News Radio.

    One of my hobby horses from way back is the hijacking of ABC FM by the “classical” music putsch – so much so that the inferior quality AM band has more varied music broadcast on RN than is broadcast on the stereo hi fidelity FM band.

  14. ABC FM should be forced back to its inital mandate to broadcast a wide range of music, jazz, rock, folk, world, experimental, minimalist, australian, industrial etc (with a special every month of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s greatest hit for Homer Paxton) in stereo hi fidelity. This would not involve much more than shifting most of the music content programs over from RN tomorrow. Same studios, same presenters.

    Radio lends itself uniquely to integration with print and online duplication, replication and additional information or references /footnotes. Radio is listened to whilst people do other things like work, drive, cook, read – inside or outside.

  15. Tony Healy says:

    I was responding to Nicholas’ call for more “openness” in the ABC discussing and planning programs, and for it to take more content from amateur sources. What Nicholas is really proposing is that the professional media surrender some of their power in selecting and defining stories, and give it to amateurs. I argue that’s not needed and wouldn’t be useful to anyone except a few pushy amateurs and lobbyists.

    Professional media, such as the ABC, already call on relevant experts when they assemble stories, and if they find interesting stories on blogs, they will use them.

    I only commented on podcasting in response to a follow-on comment. Making material available is a matter of allocating competing resources. Additional podcasts might mean fewer researchers on Four Corners, for example. Note however that the ABC is introducing new technology to assist in this. More importantly, providing valuable drama for free re-use would preclude commercial sales that fund more new drama. I’m quite happy for the ABC to run that as they see fit.

    As a side issue, I’m not really sure of Peter Martin’s claim. There are actually studies showing downloads have harmed music sales. If there’s been a recovery, bear in mind it’s partly a response to the legal and technical protections the music industry has fought and been vilified for.

    On the subject of Nicholas quaranting his own business from the freetard approach, sharing commissions is irrelevant. The mortages are still not free.

    Nicholas, your characterisation of my response is extremly dishonest. My defence was of professionalism against amateurs, not of the public sector.

  16. What Nicholas is really proposing is that the professional media surrender some of their power in selecting and defining stories, and give it to amateurs.


    Read the post.

    Read my earlier comment.

    I note that I’m not only being dishonest in your eyes, but “extremely dishonest”. I wonder what expressions you’ve reserved for those with a heavier turn of phrase than me.

    Tony I could accuse you of dishonesty, or stupidity in writing the above quoted nonsense. In fact it represents a misunderstanding of what I wrote. Common enough. And it may reflect some limitations in my own expression. Who knows?

    But throwing around accusations of dishonesty – well I’m not sure what the point of that is. Seems implausible to me. But then if I am as you say, I would say that wouldn’t I? Not much point in going on.

  17. Patrick says:

    The mortages are still not free.

    I believe the previous thread involved some discussion of public goods. Tony might want to acquaint himself with the non-rival part of that concept, and the application of the non-excludable part of it to digital content (does Tony work in the music industry?)

    Also I believe there is a concept of zero marginal cost which may be relevant to this. Not to mention that as a taxpayer I have already paid for the ABC. I haven’t paid for a mortgage.

  18. David Rubie says:

    re: podcasting being a public good.

    Televisions are relatively cheap devices with widespread usage and a transmission medium that doesn’t cost the receiver anything (although it costs the transmitter plenty).

    Podcasts, to be utilised by the receiver, incur relatively large costs mostly bourne by the receiver i.e. a computer and a network connection. The availability of these is getting widespread, but it’s nowhere near the universality of TV.

    While Yobbo was incredibly snarky in his response, he stumbled across an actual point: it’s largely the middle and better classes who possess those devices with sufficient capacity to use podcasts on a regular basis. We’re struggling as a country to finalise digital television broadcasting, wholesale ramping up of podcasting is only going to benefit a relatively small minority.

  19. Patrick says:

    Does that really stop it being a public good? I thought it was just non-rival and non-excludable. A beautiful lake is presumably not less public because most of us can’t afford to visit it.

  20. David Rubie says:

    I dunno Patrick. If the government was proposing building a beautiful lake that was 2 days travel from the people who are supposed to be enjoying it, would we question the logic behind it?

  21. David,

    Here is an opportunity to give people much better access to something for near zero marginal cost. Call me old fashioned, but, even though they’re not everyone, I can’t see why there’s much of a problem with the decision about what to do next.

  22. David Rubie says:


    I’m not convinced it’s near zero cost – a lot of the ABC content is licensed from overseas (the BBC for example). I don’t think the owners of that content are going to be particularly happy about it’s free distribution as long as they perceive value in limiting it.

    A lot of the content late at night is in the public domain. While I can see an argument for offering a stable and flexible platform for the redistribution of public domain media, my agreement is largely coloured by the notion that it would suit me personally.

    If you sift through the comments on libertarian blogs (and I mean really sift), occasionally in all the ABC bashing is the notion that the ABC is competing (unfairly) for space in the “proper news” segment and driving the majors out (end result: Ray Martin). Now, while I struggle to agree with the idea, I think that without liberalising broadcast TV in Australia, there’s little room to expand the scope and reach of the ABC without further pushing the execrable 9, 7 and 10 networks into deeper and more exciting lows. I’m not sure who the winner would be out of that, because the public at large won’t be deriving a lot of utility out of private broadcasting if it keeps following it’s current path and the advertisers will desert it.

    However, if computers get cheaper and (more importantly) easier to use, and broadband starts getting MUCH cheaper, the whole argument will be moot.

  23. wbb says:

    I haven’t heard New Dimensions but the Sports Factor is the pgm that gives me the irrits. And bloody radio plays. Who listens to those?

    Podcasting is over-rated. Too hard; too slow. I bet very small numbers use it. Streaming is the only sensible way forward. That’s immediate; one click when you are ready to view/listen.

  24. David,

    You are being perverse. I sentence you to five hours of New Dimensions.


    You are being perverse too. Streaming is a nightmare. You have to sit at your computer while it’s streamed. On the other hand, if something is in mp3 format, you CAN stream it if you want – by clicking on it it will begin streaming – but you can also save it and play it some other time on something about 500 times smaller.

    I sentence you to one hour of New Dimensions.

  25. wbb says:

    I’m appealing, Gruen. Very appealing.

    Streaming is instantaneous, you nong! You watch it as it comes down the wire. There’s no waiting. It’s a dream run.

    If you want to see something then you’re happy to sit there and watch the damn thing. (Complete attention deficit disorder excluded.)

    If you’ve got so much time (and post sub-prime who knows) up your sleeve that you can spend time recording it and transferring it onto another device just so as to be able to then have to find it, cue it and watch it at another time – then you’re part of the cursed time elite (read idle bastard) and not worth worrying about.

  26. MP3 broadcasts start immediately too. Click on the mp3 file and Bob’s your uncle.

    Appeal denied.

    One hour of New Dimensions.

  27. Yobbo says:

    It’s not silliness to point out that the ABC is primarily watched by the rich, and primarily funded by the poor.

    The ABC kids programming is the most (only?) profitable section of the ABC, it would survive quite handily without government funding.

    The majority of people who pay for the ABC are watching Big Brother and Australian Idol, not Four Corners.

  28. NPOV says:

    Yobbo, references to all of your above claims please.

    What is patently silly is to somehow imagine that Penfold’s Grange or Peugeot 407 can sensibly be compared to a broadcast service available to all. If that’s the best sort of argument that Libertarians can put up these days, it no wonder most people ignore them.

  29. Patrick says:

    Without sharing Yobbo’s prejudices in this case, I think this claim is probably right
    Its not silliness to point out that the ABC is primarily watched by the rich, and primarily funded by the poor.

  30. NPOV says:

    It wouldn’t be silly if it were true, but I can’t see how it can possibly be that it is “primarily funded by the poor”. The poor pay very little in net tax (as Costello was once quick to point out). And the “primarily watched by the rich” part would surely only be true if you discounted kid’s viewing.

    I wonder, if we introduced an “ABC levy” that only applied for household incomes over, say, $100000, would that keep Yobbo happy? (I actually think it’s not such a bad idea – certainly I would happy to pay such a levy).

  31. David Rubie says:

    Nicholas Gruen wrote:

    I would as always be interested in any response readers have

    but then says:

    You are being perverse. I sentence you to five hours of New Dimensions.

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  32. Jacques Chester says:

    Just dropping by to remind everyone of our civility policy here at Troppo. If everyone could refrain from calling each other fibbers, I will be able to refrain from engaging in Administrative Viiiiiolence.

    And that’s the truth of the matter.


    Your friendly local oppressor.

  33. wbb says:

    Some good ideas for the ABC there, Nicholas. The key I think is to get as much content online as they can afford to; more and more people are going to have access to fast internet over coming years and will then make great use of the archive.

    The other one, as you say, is to try to improve the ways the audience can feedback to the content producers. It’s simply not worth the effort at the moment trying to communicate with most program makers – some obscure email address buried away on a backpage – which results in a bureaucratically worded Thankyou Sir type response.

    In coming years, meta-discussion in and around a programme’s content by a core group of enthusiasts and occasional drop-ins will be part of the naturally occurring flora and fauna surrounding any decent cultural ecosystem*.

    (*Jeez – I’m good at metaphor.)

  34. David says:

    Is “New Dimensions” that godawful faux-hippy crap that polluted so much of the daytime ABC over summer? If so, Mr Holden has the right idea, and I’ll happily ride shotgun on his truck. I was just about ready to gnaw my own head off.

    I also have to agree with him about ABC FM. I’ve mentioned before somewhere that their dopey morning announcer asked once if people who were serious about music could possibly like jazz. (!!!) Let’s face it, Thelonious (or, for that matter, just about anything Lucky Oceans plays on the Planet) is considerably more demanding to listen to than a lot of the mid-19th century piffle (Strauss – I’m looking at you) that gets played on ABC FM.

  35. Yobbo says:

    I wonder, if we introduced an ABC levy that only applied for household incomes over, say, $100000, would that keep Yobbo happy? (I actually think its not such a bad idea – certainly I would happy to pay such a levy).

    That would be better than the current situation, but better still would be to make it a subscription service.

  36. Jonno says:

    This is a very sad thread indeed. I looked forward to reading some interesting debate but instead many of the comments on this thread are worthy of the type that would be made by New Dimensions listeners (if there are any).

    Nicholas – you have some wonderful ideas here. You are spot on about the current RN feedback. As you said, many of your ideas are an extension of things that already happen more clunkily and are ideally transferred to the web. As a Gladys, I can write to Philip Adams for LNL suggesting programmes (and he replies). Then there’s Melvyn Bragg’s delightfully whimsical weekly email newsletter for In our time on BBC Radio 4. Creating a dialogue and community is a wonderful idea and the web is the way to do it. An RN test programme would be a way to start – choose carefully of course.

    The other thing that would be useful is feedback to rate programmes, not necessarily numerically (other than New Dimensions where even a lay person can make a quick judgement). For example, a psychiatrist I very much respected was not impressed by All in the Mind. I don’t bother with it now. That would mean I could sort out which podcast was worth downloading based on more than quickly just looking at the content and which programme it is.

    Your ideas and this thread deserve better.

  37. Thanks Jonno,

    I should have mentioned Melvyn Bragg’s show – which I have mentioned here before.

  38. wbb says:

    I like Jonno’s rating idea. Different people will use the resultant ratings differently – but it’s all good info into the mix.

    Amazon and ebay use these types of user feed back very effectively. But I suppose we are talking very expensive infotech add-ons here for what is afterall a “cash-strapped” organisation already fulfilling a myriad of demands bloody well.

  39. Wbb,

    You have come good. You have obviously completed your punishment and are now full bottle on The culture of the Integral. I’ve been wanting to know how the program went for some time. Please fill us in on its contents – preferably in under two words.

    The feedback idea might not need to be expensive. I thought podcasting the back catalogue was expensive before someone on Troppo suggested BitTorrent. Likewise here I’d be very surprised if there were not open source packages around. Also, it depends on the architecture. Facebook is now becoming a very promising architecture for things like this. I know some people who were planning to develop a regional directory of rated services in particular areas – like plumbers etc. They estimated its cost at $500,000 till facebook came along. They now think they can get better functionality with an app in Facebook which could be built for $50,000.

    This may not be practicable in this case, but the right infrastructure may come along. Any geeks want to give us a steer?

  40. Robert says:

    Gee wizz. Checking back, and having only time for “a really quick scan” it seems like there might be something to fire up the thoughts here, with a view to more widely understand where people are coming from, and their point – why else would people contribute to this place, (which is, also attractively – sometimes quite if not seriously – Troppo)?

    Nicholas, that’s a big use of the ABC logo. It’s in your post, up top. It’s a visual thing: branding of that sort, visually, that way, beholds that you’ll meet what it stands for up-front in what you have to say. This reader’s thoughts are, in added response: take that branding on by all means, but ffs don’t ignore it, from the top. Glad you saw it is but one reader’s comment, of no real import, as this, as no doubt expressed poorly.

    Cheers anyway and thanks for not seeing the negative. Seems you’ve sparked something of interest – will read it through.

  41. Kevin Cox says:


    Voting for ABC programming

    Let me float an idea based on the idea of giving “the public” choice in how the ABC spends some of its money. Let me first define how the system might operate and I will leave it to others to speculate on what might happen.

    The ABC decides that it will allow “the public” to vote on where some funds should go. It allocates some amount ,say $50M, of its own money to this fund. It then calls on people to optin to be given some of this money to vote where the funds are to be spent. Let the ABC open up the market to program content providers and for those people to put up proposals for programs or content. Programs could be existing programs or could be new ideas and anyone who had opted in to the system could put up a proposal. When a proposal is put up then the minimum amount of money needed for it be viable is noted. They also put in the maximum amount of money that they can spend. They also say how the money they receive will be spent (this might vary depending on the amount received. They also specify performance measurements on how they will measure success.

    People now vote with their money for the programs of their choice but do it in the same way as optional preferential voting. Thus there is a maximum number of votes that a program can receive which is the amount specified and there is a minimum amount of money that the program has to receive to be viable.

    Now divide the money from the ABC equally between all the people who had opted in. People can buy extra votes with their own money. Let those people now vote using a multiple optional preferential system on where their money is to go. Each person who votes can put as much of their money as they wish on different programs. They also say where their money will go in the case of a program being oversubscribed or not get enough money to be viable.

    People can set themselves up as brokers. People can anonymously transfer their money to brokers. We set the system lose and see what happens. In effect we would have a gigantic election but the election would be for programs and content that the ABC might present. The funding would be for some period of time. There would be provision for what to do in the case a program does not fulfil its contractual obligations that it specified in its bid. The contractual obligations could specify some performance measures (number of viewers, number of podcasts downloaded etc).

    In practice the system would be easy to operate and could go along the following lines.

    People would optin to the system – by calling a phone number. They could at that time give their money to a broker.

    The total amount per optin would then be calculated.

    People could then add in more money of their own.

    People would then vote the money under their control by voting remotely.

    The voting would be done anonymously and the results tallied and the winners announced and the programs produced and broadcast.

  42. Ken Parish says:

    Only trouble with this idea is that, unless it generated vast numbers of genuine voters, it would be very vulnerable to stacking by ratbags, pranksters or malicious competitors. I bet there would be some at the Nine network who would love to force the ABC to spend $50 million on a series of docos on flower arranging in western Kurdistan.

  43. Kevin Cox says:


    It is going to be very hard to get enough people to sign up to make flower arranging a hot topic and good luck to you if you can. If people say they want something who are we to decide they should not have it produced. This is after all part of the magic of markets. They tend to throw up the unexpected.

  44. Kevin,

    You’re not listening to Ken’s point. He’s suggesting the market can be manipulated. You’ve not responded to that.

  45. Ken Parish says:

    If you’ve paid any attention to the various popular election “best blog” awards over the last few years you would have no doubt whatever that such processes are very easy to rort. The Nine Network, for example, (not that I’m suggesting it’s especially prone to such behaviour) could no doubt prevail on lots of its employees and associates to vote in a co-ordinated way for production of particular ABC programming. Any commercial network has a clear vested interest in maximising the chances that a potential publicly funded competitor as far as achievable avoids producing programs that will compete for the mass commercial market.

    I’m certainly not averse to public participation in decisions about what programs should be produced, but I don’t think it would be wise for ABC (or SBS) to bind itself too strongly to produce programs irrespective of the TV professionals’ judgments about what will work.

  46. John Greenfield says:

    The ABC is an anachronism of a bygone era. It needs either to innovate substantially or go away and give some more dynamic minds the spectrum space.

  47. Kevin Cox says:


    All markets can be manipulated and the ABC market as suggested is no exception. If it proves to be a problem then we can try to do something about it. My guess is that it will be harder to manipulate than you expect. Any voting scheme can also be manipulated but with secret voting (or buying) it is actually much harder than it appears unless – in the ABC case – you get corrupt brokers.

    So our first and necessary step could be to modify the system so that brokers or people who use the money for others must make their votes public – otherwise the people who gave them votes could not know that they had done what they had promised. Going even further brokers should notify how they are going to spend their money before they do it. This then gives the rest of the community a chance to react to perceived manipulation.

    This would make the whole community aware of the problem and if people decide that want the ABC to spend money on something that benefits Channel XXXX then that to me is not market manipulation but exercising free choice that they want viewers to go from the ABC to Channel XXXX (perverse but possible). If however, people sold their votes to a rival Channel then this should not be tolerated and if proven then those people – both buyers and sellers would be excluded from the market place. One way of making it difficult for people to sell their votes would be to make it impossible for a buyer to know the identity of the person who sold them the votes.

    Again I will come back to the way successful information systems are actually built – and the ABC proposal is an information system. You do NOT try to define the system completely before you start. What you do is to define the minimum functioning system or you take an existing system and modify it. You start it up and you modify it and let it evolve according to the problems and opportunities that you encounter.

    I will come back to a small but true anecdote. I was once part of a group that took control of a University student union by organising “the engineers” to vote. We won the first round but we were thrown out the next time there was a vote because people were aware of what was going on and the engineers were in a minority and they also appeared to desert the party:) It was market manipulation but it made the system better because there was more interest the next time around. If Channel XXXX was successful then all those people who did not take an interest the first time would be out voting the second time.

    Perhaps the message is – we should not be afraid of doing something because there is a chance it will not work as expected. In fact it will NOT work as expected. It is how we react to these challenges that makes for very successful systems.

    If this is not a satisfactory answer then I will try to come up with another possible modification that might work but I think secret voting, brokers declaring how they are going to vote, and seeing their actual votes before others vote will solve the problem that worries you. (Actually I have just thought of another way and that is to do voting incrementally and in stages)

  48. NPOV says:

    I wonder, do the commercial stations seriously see the ABC as a competitive threat? My guess is that they very much rely on it as a training ground for journalists, and to assuage the fears of those that TV is all mindless junk that is destroying our ability to think critically.

  49. Patrick says:

    Is it just me or was Kevin’s response completely besides the point?

    Kevin, no-one is suggesting we have compulsory voting on ABC programming. Can you see the problem with voluntary voting where the only voters are people who care to go and click on the website?

    I can’t imagine a valid reason for making the outcome of these votes mandatory. In the absence of making them mandatory, I can’t really see why one would not just leave NG’s system as is – it would, in effect, function like a more sophisticated feedback system than straight voting.

    PS: this is entirely compatible with NG’s comments as I read them:

    You do NOT try to define the system completely before you start. What you do is to define the minimum functioning system or you take an existing system and modify it. You start it up and you modify it and let it evolve according to the problems and opportunities that you encounter.

  50. Kevin Cox says:


    Markets are places where people have a choice. If something is compulsory it is not a choice. I should also have the right not to participate if I do not want to. The issue that whate raised which I was trying to address is the “market manipulation” when you have a system where people do not have to participate.

    Like all markets if it is open and transparent then we are relying on the good sense of those that think about these things to make sure they put in their choice. If there are not enough of them to go the way they think things should go then that is life. I get the feeling that some people think market manipulation in this situation is where the end result is not what they would like.

    The problem with NG’s and the current scheme is who and how do you decide on what programs to fund. It seems to me that giving “the people” albeit “the interested people” the chance to vote is preferable to having a more select group of people decide through a not very transparent process which is subject to a lot more manipulation. Just witness what has happened at the ABC over the years.

    I trust in the good sense of the people for them to decide what is best as they perceive it both for them and the community. They do not have to do very much to register a vote – except make a phone call and I expect a lot of people will vote. I think people underestimate the demand. My guess is promoted properly we would get a majority of people participating.

    How any economist can argue against giving people a choice where they currently have no choice leaves me puzzled. I can understand the worry about market manipulation but I believe I have put up a suggestion that will stop it. In the unlikely event that it doesn’t then we can try something else but simply because something may happen is not a good enough reason not to do something. If we thought this way then we would never do anything.

    To come back to the evil Channel XXXX there is nothing to stop another group organising themselves to try to defeat XXXX and I would expect and hope it would happen because people would be involved.

    With respect to your PS quote I was not criticising NG’s proposal on that ground. Just making a point about not expecting any system to be perfect and to plan for it to change.

    Further what is proposed works quite well with NG’s proposals and is not a criticism of them. It makes no difference to them.

  51. Jacques Chester says:

    Ken, Kevin;

    Never mind manipulation by Channel Nine. All it would take is a single meme to sweep the internet to skew the result. Or for some model to promise he or she will use the airtime to strip naked.

  52. Patrick says:

    Or for some model to promise he or she will use the airtime to strip naked.

    I apologise for my earlier criticism – this is clearly a fantastic idea and should be adopted immediately…

  53. The program this post was prepatory to can now be viewed – and downloaded here.

  54. Jacques Chester says:

    Nick’s bit starts at 39:30.

  55. Laura says:

    You can already ‘vodcast’ pretty much all ABC-produced tv show content. I don’t have a television set or aerial but I never miss Gardening Australia and I also subscribe to the 7.30 report and lateline. When Summer Heights high was on I subscribed to that too. New episodes just organise themselves into iTunes and wait until I have time to watch them.

  56. Rhys says:

    G’day, Nicholas,

    As a first-time reader of your blog I must say I’m impressed by your ideas and I wholeheartedly agree. The only suggestion I can add is that they also broadcast ABC Grandstand on-line, the football as well as the cricket, and all other sports too, both men’s and women’s, of course. Also, would you proposed podcasting of the entire ABC catalogue include old programmes such as Countdown, Aunty Jack, etc., or just the latest ones?


  57. They should definitely put up anything that exists, and which doesn’t have substantial commercial value. If it costs them money to do that, I’m sure volunteers would chip in with the project.

    Of the few items that might have a commercial value, I think there should be some independent assessment of the extent to which paid access would reduce community value (because it would dramatically reduce the number who would get access to the material).

    If there’s a substantial commercial benefit (rather than a very marginal one) it should go up for free, and otherwise the ABC should put them up for sale on the website and in their shops on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis. For as long as they can demonstrate substantial commercial value in having paid access they should be able to maintain the policy, and when they can do so no longer the material should be made free.

    The relevant amounts we’re talking about should be transparent so that the government could be given the choice to buy the content and donate it to the public domain, as the amount of money we’d be talking about would be very small beer.

  58. zenyatta says:

    Some good ideas for the ABC there, Nicholas. The key I think is to get as much content online as they can afford to; more and more people are going to have access to fast internet over coming years and will then make great use of the archive.

    The other one, as you say, is to try to improve the ways the audience can feedback to the content producers. It’s simply not worth the effort at the moment trying to communicate with most program makers – some obscure email address buried away on a backpage – which results in a bureaucratically worded Thankyou Sir type response.

    In coming years, meta-discussion in and around a programme’s content by a core group of enthusiasts and occasional drop-ins will be part of the naturally occurring flora and fauna surrounding any decent cultural ecosystem*.

    (*Jeez – I’m good at metaphor.)

  59. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thx Zenyatta. Agreed.

Comments are closed.