ABC Says No Plans to Turn Off Radio, TV Broadcasts

Delivering the 2017 Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture at the recent Screen Forever conference in Melbourne, ABC Chairman Justin Milne outlined some of the challenges facing the national broadcaster and made a commitment to traditional broadcasting alongside newer forms of content delivery.

In addressing some of some of the challenges facing the ABC, Milne said, “They’re not too dissimilar from those facing almost every other large organisation with a long history. All organisations are having to re-examine their business models, their structures, their technology, their markets – because of the internet. We do now live in the Global Village. We are all connected and so are our machines. It really has changed everything – and these changes have probably only just begun. Newspapers have lost their rivers of gold and scheduled TV stations are selling ads to declining, older audiences.

“These days consumers know what technology can provide so they want every movie, radio program, newspaper article, book and TV show available to all the time. They want them wherever they are and on any device they choose. They want the technology to remember where they’re up to so they can say stop reading a book at page 135 on an iPad and then pick it up on their phone in the train the next day at the same page. And, of course, they want that for movies and podcasts. They expect the media company who provides the service to use machine-brains and consumer data to make intelligent suggestions about things they might enjoy. Oh – and they’d like that as cheaply as possible and ad-free.

“Turns out, this is a major opportunity for the ABC because that’s what we do. High quality, free content. It’s true that today most of our content is broadcast and scheduled but we are adding a very significant on-demand service – the beginnings of which can be seen with iview and ABC Listen.”

According to the ABC Chair, there remains “a lot more to do”.  He cited the reorganisation announcement by the ABC’s Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie, designed to eliminate duplication and siloed thinking.

“But, that is only the first step,” he said. “The ABC will develop the systems and tools that make it easier for audiences to discover our content. If the ABC is to be relevant and impactful in this new era, we must master advanced authentication capability, big databases which can catalogue and retrieve all of our media assets, and connected databases which can track the assets that our customers request. We can use advances in machine learning to identify improvements for both the ABC and its users. I will provide more details about this new platform at our first Annual Public Meeting in February.

“And, just to be clear we have NO plans to turn off radio or TV broadcasts. Those services will continue far into the future but a modern and exciting on-demand service will be added progressively.”

Though Milne said it’s hard to predict exactly how technology will play over the next 20 years, he is in no doubt that big data and machine learning will be important.

“Think about Amazon,” he said. “They dominate the cloud, have huge data about shopping all over the planet and are one of the world’s leaders in Machine Learning too. They can match data sets about the things you buy, the books you read, plus all the data about the movies and shows you watch, when and for how long. Put all this together and and their capacity to significantly improve the odds as to what sort of shows will succeed are enhanced. Their data and analytics can help them decide what elements scripts should have, up and coming actors who are likely to be a big hit tomorrow, themes that are likely to be big next year. If this doesn’t help them produce more hits it may at least help them produce less misses.

“I’m not saying for a minute that there’s no place for human talent, intuition, and experience. There really is, but talented producers and writers combined with great data analysis will become an increasingly successful combination.

“But, as the policy makers search for the right framework it’s important to remember the last 50 years have shown us all that a combination of regulation and targeted assistance is vital to building a local industry, which in turn nourishes our nation. Now we are entering a new phase with the arrival of Netflix, Amazon et al it is important that they too are required to make a strong contribution to the local industry, as indeed Europe and Canada are requiring them to do.”



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