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.