ABC to embrace Netflix-style streaming from next year

Michelle Guthrie
Boss Dec/Jan
Michelle Guthrie Boss Dec/Jan

The ABC is set to morph into a Netflix-style streaming service from as early as next year, and to use data and analytics to track which actors and stories resonate with audiences, board chairman Justin Milne has revealed.

Delivering the Hector Crawford memorial speech at the Screen Forever conference on Wednesday, Mr Milne avoided mentioning Netflix and streaming rival Stan by name, but did point to Amazon as a model for what the ABC is likely to evolve into.

"These days consumers know what technology can provide so they want every movie, radio program, newspaper article, book and TV show available to them all the time," he said.

"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 on the train the next day at the same page. And, of course, they want that for movies and podcasts.

"Turns out, this is a major opportunity for the ABC because that's what we do. High quality, free content."

While the majority of the broadcaster's content is still delivered via traditional channels such as radio and television and in accordance with a program schedule, Mr Milne said "we are adding a very significant on-demand service - the beginnings of which can be seen with iView and [podcast service] ABC Listen".

Mr Milne has a background in the world of technology, having previously served as CEO of MSN and BigPond. Malcolm Turnbull appointed him to the board of NBN Co in 2013.

The ABC's managing director Michelle Guthrie, who on Tuesday unveiled a major restructure of the broadcaster along content production lines (news, entertainment, local) rather than distribution channels (TV, radio, online), previously worked as the head of Google in Asia.

If it's fair to say big data now has control of the levers within the national broadcaster, it's also fair to say that we are at last starting to see where they are steering it.

"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," Mr Milne said.

"We can use advances in machine learning to identify improvements for both the ABC and its users."

Pointing to Amazon's use of data to provide recommendations of what a consumer might like to read or watch next based on what they have read or watched before, Mr Milne noted "their capacity to significantly improve the odds as to what sort of shows will succeed are enhanced".

He added that 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".

For anyone concerned that all this data would mean the death of individual creativity and risk taking, Mr Milne insisted human intuition would continue to play a significant role in the creation of new content.

"But," he added, "talented producers and writers combined with great data analysis will become an increasingly successful combination."

This brave new world is not in some distant future. Mr Milne promised he would reveal details about the ABC's new streaming platform at its first annual public meeting in February 2018.

It seems your ABC is about to become almost unrecognisable as the Aunty of old.

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This story ABC to embrace Netflix-style streaming from next year first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.