Hoisted from Archives: ABC 2.0

Image result for abc digital

Not the ABC’s logo, but a very nice looking image whatever it is!

I think this is the first post on Troppo that’s ‘hoisted from archives’ which is to say it’s an earlier post that I’m reposting. It was done as preparation for an interview with Michael Duffy and now as part of the washup of the Government 2.0 Taskforce I’m going to talk to ABC staff.  So I’ve very slightly rejigged the post so it can be ‘pre-reading’ for our talk.  Naturally enough it gives anyone doing their ‘pre-reading’ an opportunity to have their ‘pre-say’ or to contribute after our discussion.

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 world of the internet.

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 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 complete the Web 1.0 agenda and, 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. (Update: since this post was originally written the ABC have launched ABC Open. Of course it’s too early to know how well it will go, but it seems like a great initiative to me – one request – it’s nice that the regions are getting this service, but it should be a national one – not just limited to regions).

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. (I realise that on rewriting the material above against Recommendation Two, there’s a bit of overlap here.  So apologies, but I’m sure you can make the necessary adjustments as a reader – and no cause was ever hurt by a bit of gratuitous repetition!)

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).

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22 Responses to Hoisted from Archives: ABC 2.0

  1. Don Arthur says:

    …if one had to pick something to take off can we please remove ‘New Dimensions‘ from ABC Radio National?

    You’ll hear about the scientific evidence of reincarnation, telepathy, psychic healing …

    I’m glad it’s not just me who’s irritated by New Dimensions. I’ve never understood why it’s on RN.

  2. Yobbo says:

    Lots of good ideas about how to spend other people’s money in this post.

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    The ABC is already spending other people’s money – ours – and I’m happy with that. If you’re not – fine! But I don’t think any of my suggestions involve spending any more of anyone’s money. Pavlov where are you?

  4. Yobbo says:

    It’s not fine though, is it?

    Because they will spend my money whether we like it or not. If you think the ABC is so great and people would voluntarily pay for it, why not fund it with voluntary donations or make it a pay TV channel?

    My favourite channels are Fox Sports, the history channel and the sci fi channel. I haven’t watched the ABC for years. I pay $120 per month for the privelege of watching the channels I like, along with the money I am forced to pay so you can watch yours.

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Yobbo,

    I’ll just make a note. Any post about the ABC, whatever it’s content will contain a comment from Yobbo that he prefers Fox Sports. Why aren’t you watching Fox News? They report, You decide.

  6. NPOV says:

    *cough* apostrophe *cough*

  7. If only the ABC would ditch all sport over to Fox or whatever.

    I’ve said it before and I might as well say it again.

    New Dimensions is sheer hokum. Who on earth decided to pay for it?

    It’s a refined middle class hippie version of Benny Hinn.

    http://www.bennyhinn.org/default.cfm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_Hinn

  8. Yobbo says:

    I’ll just make a note. Any post about the ABC, whatever it’s content will contain a comment from Yobbo that he prefers Fox Sports. Why aren’t you watching Fox News? They report, You decide.

    Fox Sports is an Australian channel that has nothing at all to do with the US Fox News Channel.

    Way to avoid the point though. Why should I pay for your entertainment again? I’m 100% sure you make more money than I do.

    The ABC is welfare for the rich, paid for the poor, who don’t watch it.

  9. Don Arthur says:

    Clive Bean has an interesting paper on differences in audiences between TV channels.

    So Yobbo, can we convert all roads to toll roads? I don’t drive much.

  10. Yobbo says:

    We can discuss private infrastructure in a new post if you like, Don.

    The point is that there are plenty of alternatives to the ABC that are available without leeching any money from taxpayers. There are 3 commercial free to air TV stations, and dozens of subscription TV channels.

    The situation with roads are a little more complex because there are no readily available substitutes yet. But there is absolutely no reason why the public funding of the ABC could not be abolished tomorrow. The corporation would live on with a different funding model, and even if it didn’t, it would hardly bring civilisation to a halt.

  11. Dilip says:

    Nicholas

    You talk of a mission in the Web 2.0 world… I don’t know whose mission it is (and whether it is the ABC’s), but bridging the digital divide is a huge mission. Digital divide is the wrong phrase, it actually should be called ‘information divide’ or better still ‘cognitive divide’.

    To think that just because everyone is provided access to broadband and a cheap PC, that they will be able to comprehend vastly growing and complex information base needed to live a happy life (or to even eke out an existence in the future world) is the biggest myth of our times.

    It is not the lack of information per se, but the lack of ability to analyse, synthesise, comprehend and apply it that creates both challenges and opportunities. No matter how you look at it, those are big challenges and big opportunities.

  12. Cris says:

    The ABC, like many of our cultural institutions, has been funded by the mighty tax dollar. All the content produced and created by the ABC, whether in conjuction with Channel 4 or Canadian Broadcasting, has been paid for by the public purse. Therefore we the people, who have already paid, own the copyright, not the intellectual copyright.

    I think the idea, therefore, of making available for download archival material or current material is fantastic. But I already own it as a tax payer and would refuse to pay for it again. Overseas material for sale I am okay with that.

    So place material online but keep the costs in-house through the budget allocation … Other government agencies have to do the same.

  13. levelhead says:

    @Yobbo:

    You don’t seriously think the other free-to-air stations offer content that’s even vaguely favourably comparable to that offered by the ABC? Not even close! They are weighed down by bias, hyperbole, long advertorials framed as ‘programs’ (current affairs, lifestyle, you name it)… but for a few programming exceptions here and there, they’re poorly informed counterparts.

    I take your point about paying for the specialist channels you have an interest in, but you completely miss the point about the ABC offering accountable content to the WHOLE of this vast country. In regional and metropolitan areas alike, the ABC plays a vital role, whether you’re an active consumer or not. Take emergencies, for example: I’d be interested to know what your response would be if you were caught in a potentially fatal bushfire situation and needing to know what’s going on. There are countless more examples, but I fear you’re one of those types who is determined to make a senseless argument ’til the cows come home.

    PS: it’s interesting to see that you link to ABC News Online in your blog’s ‘News Links’.

  14. Anne says:

    There doesn’t really have to be anymore spent, just rearrange what is already there. I agree that creating podcasts of the more entertaining programs is a must. Podcasting is inexpensive(this will make Yobbo happy)and certainly allows access by a much wider community to some very good quality content.
    Need to make this snappy though as on my RSS feed today came news of web 3.0!

  15. I don’t know how much funding the ABC receives and whilst I admit that I don’t listen to the ABC often except for the occasional live radio or podcast I am happy for it to continue to be a publicly-funded initiative. If funding were cut or even phased out over a couple of years I doubt they could adjust to the change whilst maintaining the high level of quality programming they do and not slide down the drain like all other commercial radio.

    However I do have to question the strategy behind these recommendations. They’re good recommendations for the ABC to look at even without having a particular goal but perhaps we can look at secondary benefits to these recommendations.

    For example, to address the concerns of taxpayer funding of ABC from people such as Yobbo perhaps the goal could be to look for cost savings through outsourcing to volunteers and distribute some of the responsibility for programming and locating stories, presenters, resources etc to the public through Web 2.0 – tho not sure how ABC staff would feel about that, especially if it resulted in downsizing.

    Why else should the ABC look to expand their utilisation of Web 2.0 technologies, social media and online communities? It sounds like they don’t really have the capability for it so they would need to develop that capability to take advantage of … what opportunity? Whilst adopting these recommendations would benefit some audience segments I’m not sure “for the public good” is a strong enough argument when this area seems to be a weak spot for the ABC and the opportunity not tied to any particular strategy.

    I’m all for it – but needs further work.

  16. BUNSEN says:

    Reply to Don Arthur –
    “New Dimensions” – from Nokia (or somewhere) California – you silly people, is a holiday fill-in sold from allegedly commercial New Age People from California.
    Hey guys apply some subtlety to your reasoning – just stumm – and think for a while.
    What is the connection between Oz and California lately?
    Well, Peter Beattie as the wonderful Qld trades commissioner might make easy commission bucks by selling such junk to the ABC.
    After all, he was a self admitted media groupie; wasn’t he?

    Wasn’t/isn’t he also a fan of Joh?
    So what’s the difference between water powered cars and the next generation of Australians living the sublime life just swimming about with the dolphins?

    Meanwhile you’ve all been told to swallow whole – Global Warming.
    I’m sure ex-premier pete met with Al Gore, early in the peace, in order to latch and align his media contacts in Oz towards collecting some Swiss account royalty money. for ‘ron
    .
    I can’t work out what it is with Australians.
    Most people I know understand how bloody minded and vicious they are within themselves.
    Yet they seem to always expect a fair go from the b——s employed by our system of governance and the similar lot employed by corporations that once used to be our government utilities.

    Get a handle on it fellas and check the phone book where once the -‘C’- once said ‘Commission’ – but now says ‘Corporation’.
    What was once collectively yours now belongs to others.
    Meanwhile ‘others’ – or the select group nominating themselves as inviolate are sucking the goodness and the groundplane from your very existence.

  17. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Nathanael,

    I’m not quite sure why something needs to fit within some ‘strategy’. Of course it might sound good if it were. And I could make a strategy of it, (to some extent the post does this), but if it doesn’t come across as strategic, I think I’m OK with that. (I wrote my own critique of making ‘strategy’ too central here)

    Without a strategy I am, in effect saying ‘here are all these amazing new things that can be done that generate massively more value out of the same resources, so I think we should be embracing them with vigour’.

  18. Hmm, ok – I guess I’m saying I don’t believe it CAN be done with the currently-available resources given the points made about implied expertise within the ABC to embrace new technology and web 2.0 to the fullest extent so if they’re to undertake further recruitment, training and other capability-building there should be a goal otherwise it’s spending additional money to create additional value for the sake of creating additional value and if you embark down that path there is no logical end.

  19. Also, for context, I’ve recently joined a strategic communication team and am working through the book Strategy Safari for bedtime reading so it’s very much top-of-mind at the moment :)

  20. JJ says:

    New Dimensions is still on at 2am on Mondays – somebody at the ABC must like it – perhaps they are the only listeners.

  21. Dan says:

    It’s basically a test pattern and fills up space wonderfully.

    (If you’re really up then and want something to listen to I recommend a superb Glaswegian artist who performs under the name Sleep Research Facility. Nostromo is a masterpiece. No, I’m not kidding. ABC should just put it on repeat in the wee hours.)

  22. Dan says:

    Things to play late at night that are better than New Dimensions.

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