catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The ABC and the Internet

with 25 comments

The BBC website is excellent. For many purposes, it is where I start when I want current information on the web. The best world news, sport, weather and, even, recipes. And of course through it you can easily listen to Radio 3, Radio 4 and the BBC’s other offerings.

Rupert Murdoch is unhappy about the BBC’s dominance and particularly about its free online news which makes it very difficult for him to charge for news online from The Times and other papers.

Our ABC online is, unfortunately, nowhere near as good. Its management would probably say that it is a matter of money and it needs more from the government to do a better job. The BBC receives the TV licence fee and is expected to live within that. The ABC expects to receive more money as it adds new services, as it did recently with digital TCV channels. So far as I can work out from its Annual Reports the ABC has not received money specifically for online.

The best online sites from broadcasters and publishers – including the BBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times – operate as content providers in their own right. Most started as online versions of the paper or radio station or TV channel but the smarter ones realized they were in a new medium with new rules and new opportunities.

So, where does all this leave our ABC? Its website is poor compared to the BBC. It is not even very useful for current news. The Sydney Morning Herald seems to do a better covering “News Just In”. For my money, SBS online does a marginally better job with news. On TV, SBS News does more than a marginally better job, but that’s a different argument.

The reason for the less-than-great online presence of the ABC might lie in its Charter. It revolves around the idea of a “broadcasting service” defined in the Act in a way that suggests “push” rather than “pull” publication of material. Perhaps for that reason the board and management limits its online activity to stuff that is related or supplementary to its conventional radio and TV broadcasting. This is broadly what it does with ABC Enterprises, now called ABC Commercial.

Or perhaps it is just a matter of money or lack of  belief in the future of the internet? If it’s the latter, it is a dangerous bet. Reading the last couple of annual reports, you don’t get the impression that the ABC believes that the internet is the future of broadcasting.

I must say that to me this result is a pity. I would like to see an online presence much more like the BBC. It would arguably be unfair to commercial broadcasters and others trying to make money online (the Murdoch complaint) but I guess I have grown up with the ABC as part of my life and I would be sorry to see it slip into obsolescence.

Note: I leave out of this any discussion of whether ABC News and Current Affairs are biased (they are) or whether it should be abolished entirely. If you want to argue that, please start your own thread.

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Written by Ken Nielsen

January 7, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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25 Responses

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  1. It would be fascinating to have a quick poll on people’s browsing/media habits first thing in the morning here.

    Mine goes something like this:

    Wake up
    Put on ABC FM or 2MBS FM for background music (depending on which station is playing the composers I prefer i.e. the greats and not Elgar, Copeland or avant garde crap)
    Log on and the first thing I read are the SMH headlines, then specific SMH national stories and world stories (yes I am still a Fairfax fan and perhaps a bit too Sydney centric) then browse the SMH opinions
    Then the Oz, ditto except I usually find the Oz opinions more interesting
    Then look at what’s happening on Catallaxy, Marginal Revolution, Overcoming Bias, Andrew Norton and finally Graeme Bird for laughs

    jtfsoon

    January 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm

  2. I don’t mind the ABC Online site. It’s biased on politics (always) and may not be extensive or flash but I’ve found that latest developments are usually attended to there in a pretty competitive timeframe. I also like its lack of flashing gizmos and other irritating crap that slows page loading. Usually check out the OZ breaking news as well.

    C.L.

    January 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm

  3. Elgar? crikey what’s wrong with his enigma variations.

    I actually listen to RN go to NR for political talk and then to AM.

    I do not go to Internet until well after then.
    I just read stories I am interested in with sport being first.

    If you listen to RN then AM you already know what the main stories are.

    the ABC is a lot better than commerical radio/TV sites

    Butterfield, Bloomfield & Bishop

    January 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm

  4. elgar is boring and banal homes.

    the only people who can do symphonic music well are the Kraut-speakers, followed by a handful of Russians and Italians

    jtfsoon

    January 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm

  5. If you listen to RN then AM you already know what the main stories are.

    And you already have your Labor talking points for the day!

    C.L.

    January 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm

  6. OK Jason, mine goes –
    2MBS until they play Strauss waltzes or somesuch, then ABC Classic FM
    Email
    SMH
    BBC
    Selected blogs thru Bloglines (never Bird)
    run with podcasts
    breakfast with whichever radio station has survived or CD if neither.

    I prefer to read the Oz dead tree version for some reason.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 7, 2010 at 1:56 pm

  7. ABC Unleashed actually does have interesting writers from time to time, and they don’t always do lefty talking points.

    jtfsoon

    January 7, 2010 at 1:56 pm

  8. Without wanting to dwell on bias, the 7.30 Report has been far better with Chris Uhlmann hosting over summer. No doubt he’ll be sent to boot camp for allowing responses to questions.

    Much as I hate to admit it, ABC Radio sports coverage is terrific. And it reaches new heights on long drives in the middle of nowhere… like western Sydney.

    Infidel Tiger

    January 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm

  9. also for some reason despite the annoying pop up and video stuff I find the SMH website layout a lot more attractive than the Oz which looks a tad too crowded and staid. I think this may well have a role in my clicking on the SMH first

    jtfsoon

    January 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm

  10. ABC FM is a little too bland and middle-brow, particularly when you can get Radio 3 on-line.

    I use the iPlayer a lot, but the BBC news site is just too tediously biased to the left to take seriously. Ditto the smh.

    WSJ is good, Arts and Letters Daily is a must. But the best Newspaper site is definitely the UK Telegraph.

    Rococo Liberal

    January 7, 2010 at 2:14 pm

  11. This piece strikes me as strange.

    Ken, you seem to be saying that the ABC website is ‘poor’ compared with the BBC.

    How about compared with any other news and current affairs website in Australia?

    And your suggestion that there may be some scepticism about the long-term value of online news and current affairs is frankly bizarre. They’ve been at the forefront locally since day one. Of course it’s the money.

    FDB

    January 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm

  12. One thing I hate about the BBC is that some their content isn’t made available to users outside of the UK. Apart from that though you can get access to a lot of tasty morsels.

    dover_beach

    January 7, 2010 at 2:33 pm

  13. How about compared with any other news and current affairs website in Australia?

    He did compare, read it again and see if you could muster up a little than 100 in the Verbal SAT by sitting for it.

    ———–

    The BBC has said they are looking to IPO their online and international news site and TV/cable if I’m not mistaken as a result of the damage they are doing to private news gatherers seeing they are financed under the threat of jail to non-subscribers.

    jc

    January 7, 2010 at 2:40 pm

  14. “Ken, you seem to be saying that the ABC website is ‘poor’ compared with the BBC.”

    Exactly what I am saying.

    “How about compared with any other news and current affairs website in Australia?”

    Not interested. BBC is the competitor for my attention – It’s a global market.

    “And your suggestion that there may be some scepticism about the long-term value of online news and current affairs is frankly bizarre. They’ve been at the forefront locally since day one. Of course it’s the money.”

    You miss the point. The BBC got no new money. They had to cut their cloth. If the world of media is changing (it is, radically) organisations have to cut some activities to find money for the new. Part of the ABC’s problem is that to do anything new – digital, more kid stuff, more local drama – they expect more money.
    As anyone who has run a business knows, this ain’t the way the world works. Otherwise businesses’ buggy whip budgets would not have been cut when cars came along.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm

  15. Verbal?

    Anyhoo, yes, I missed that para. I disagree with it though. SBS and the SMH seem to me to be regurgitating whatever’s on the wires without too much editorial filtration. There are million places to find that – why bother with the duplication? The answer of course is to turn a profit, by trying to be the only place a person goes for their news. Y’know… providing everything in the one place.

    The whole point of the ABC is to try to provide content that isn’t already available elsewhere from commercial sources.

    FDB

    January 7, 2010 at 2:45 pm

  16. “You miss the point. The BBC got no new money. They had to cut their cloth. If the world of media is changing (it is, radically) organisations have to cut some activities to find money for the new. Part of the ABC’s problem is that to do anything new – digital, more kid stuff, more local drama – they expect more money.”

    What would you have them cut?

    FDB

    January 7, 2010 at 2:49 pm

  17. “The whole point of the ABC is to try to provide content that isn’t already available elsewhere from commercial sources.”

    Good grief. ABC news these days – on air and online – is wire stuff rewritten (slightly) with an occasional stand up to camera from an ABC correspondent repeating what he/she saw on TV.
    They’re not unique – there is not much reporting done these days outside the wire services.
    The battle ground is comment which is just about the only thing an outlet can run that is original. And even a lot of that is syndicated.
    What I like about SBS is that they take material from good originators, by and large.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm

  18. “What would you have them cut?”

    Dunno. That’s the job management is paid to do.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm

  19. Ken, I think you will find that the superior coverage by the BBC does come down to funding. Currently the licence fee contributes the largest portion of the of revenue for the the BBC (approx 3.5 Billion sterling for the 08-09 period according to the BBC annual reports). It is a compolsory licence fee (if you have a TV) so it is a pretty hefty tax @ 147 pounds a year. Compare that with $843M AUD funding of the ABC for the same period you can see there is going to be a discrepancy.

    If you add together what the BBC make from their corporate Arm (BBC worldwide – which sells all the popular TV shows – think Top gear, red dwarf, etc) and the extra govt subsidies, that tidy little sum comes to round about about what the little old ABC gets funded.

    There is much debate in the UK @ the moment on the licencing fee and if it ever disappears I think you will see a marked drop in the BBC standards. Furthermore if you take an apples for apples approach if the ABC adopted the licence fee scheme then if you assume there are 5million dwellings (this is just a guess – I haven’t looked at ABS) if you look at a similar fee in AUD then the ABC would be funded somewhere in the order of $1.2B AUD. An extra $400M… not a bad little sum to improve services

    VGH

    January 7, 2010 at 3:50 pm

  20. VGH: Sure, BBC gets more income than ABC but my point still is that it decided to rejig it’s budget to spend heavily on online stuff. That money was not sitting in the bank waiting for a good idea. Something was pared back.
    The ABC seems not to have thought that appropriate. Partly, I believe because it is sclerotic; activities, people and assets set and stay.
    I agree the ABC would be better off with something like a licence fee as a guaranteed income. But it ain’t gonna happen under any government.
    I want to make it clear that I care about the ABC. It’s politics annoy me often but it’s quality shortcomings bother me much more.
    I exclude radio from most of these comments. Classic FM, News Radio and even Radio National do pretty good jobs on pretty low budgets.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

  21. An extra $400M… not a bad little sum to improve services

    Why would we want to throw another 400 million into it when you can obtain news content (you like) from the BBC?

    Why even more money?

    jc

    January 7, 2010 at 4:50 pm

  22. I think the good people at the CIS will tell you based on their experience that the ABC isn’t really that biased. despite being one of the evil ‘neoliberal’ think tanks they usually get very good coverage from ABC journos who are quite keen to report on their work. ultimately what’s interesting trumps any political preferences.

    jtfsoon

    January 7, 2010 at 4:54 pm

  23. I’m pissed off about the tv licence (and the nasty way that people who don’t pay are dealt with) but the bbc content is pretty good really, the best website for football, the iPlayer is really good and works on my PS3 so I can watch it full-screen widescreen streaming over the net and has heaps of stored programmes you can watch on demand. They have a million local versions of the tv and radio that can be picked up with freesat from home. I would (almost) be willing to pay for access voluntarily if the news didn’t have the obvious establishment bias. I don’t feel the same way about the ABC at all and would prefer it to be defunded.

    Greego

    January 7, 2010 at 10:15 pm

  24. ABC Classic FM in the morning, Emma Ayres has very round vowels

    RN when driving – surprising how balanced and informative they really are.

    Blogotariat for a quick round up – anything of interest can be easily followed up

    Catallaxy for a punch up

    Forget the commercial outlets – life is too short for crap

    And this for a better view

    rog

    January 7, 2010 at 10:28 pm

  25. The blogs/news I read online:

    – BBC News (football, then general stuff)
    – The Australian (to keep track of what’s happening at home)
    – Alsblog, catallaxy, cafe hayek, coordinationproblem, mises blog, econlog, Tim Blair and other random libertarian/economic blogs, and occasionally torture myself by reading larvatus prodeo, krugman’s blog, john quiggin, and other rubbish masquerading as intelligent analysis

    I never listen to the radio. Didn’t realise so many people still did.

    Greego

    January 7, 2010 at 10:47 pm


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