EXCLUSIVE: It’s a question every good ABC viewer wants to know: when will iview upgrade to a higher resolution for its avid users?
Since it was launched in 2008, iview has become a stunning success for ABC, widely touted as the leading catch-up service amongst Australian viewers. It now pulls over a million plays a day, but as audiences demand more from their online video, particularly amongst those now viewing on their TV screens rather than desktops, there are those wanting better quality vision and sound.
Juggling the demand at the same time as ABC has faced funding cuts, is the job of Rebecca Heap, ABC Head of TV Strategy and Digital Products.
“It’s definitely a cost issue, but what we are doing in the second half of this year is starting a trial of higher resolution of content on connected TVs, and allowing our audience to opt in. That will help inform us for a better discussion internally about 0ur audience values this and a need to invest,” she says.
“A large part of our audience is not in metropolitan areas, so we do need to make sure we are serving content that is easy for everyone to consume.
“But I feel pretty confident we will have some kind of higher resolution as an option before too long.”
So why the need for an option?
As a public broadcaster, ABC must ensure it is not making life difficult for those who are limited by ISP capability. There are questions that need addressing, particularly where every bottom line dollar has to be justified.
“How many people are concerned about their download limit, or have concerns that they live in an area where their bandwidth doesn’t support a High-Res file?” she asks.
“Do we need to offer a choice or do we push the whole thing to Higher Resolution?
“It will certainly be a big investment on the ABC’s behalf so we need to back it up and say ‘This is what our audience want.’”
On that note, ABC has also been experimenting with its Binge offerings, carefully delivering each in a different playout to gain further audience insight.
“Jonah offered the full series on iview the weekend before telecast but we pulled it down and then released it bit by bit. Glitch was day and date with the whole broadcast after the first ep. Sammy J and Randy will be premiering on iview 6 weeks ahead of broadcast and remain for the full 30 days through September,” she continues.
“What we’re learning is ‘How do you best work that interplay between broadcast and online viewing?'”
By the end of this month Glitch will be the top adults programme on iview this year, trumping programmes such as The Killing Season and Secret River. Heap says on the day it premiered, there were big numbers powering through Glitch‘s full season.
“There were a lot of people up very late on Thursday night working their way through it. You can literally see some people watching 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on Thursday night. We know from Netflix and stunts such as our Comedy Binge that’s the way people want to engage with content.
“Aunty always does particularly well on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Consistently every Sunday now we are pulling in over a million programme plays.”
Adult viewing increases over Thursday – Sunday, while Kids content is consistent across the week.
But being a public broadcaster does have its advantages. ABC happily offers premieres in iview, and uploads content before a later Perth broadcast, all because it isn’t reliant on monetising its content. ABC Charter does not prioritise between TV and online -they are all deemed valuable audiences.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s broadcast or iview. We’re making sure our audience find distinct Australian content, which is a great challenge in this quickly-changing landscape that we work in. There are so many choices and making sure Australian content cuts through is really important to iview,” says Heap.
“It’s really important our audience finds Australian stories but we are increasingly agnostic as to where and how they find them. It needs to be easy and on their terms, then they will watch and engage. So that’s really what Glitch was all about.”
Glitch was given the binge treatment because of its appeal to young viewers. ABC is constantly seeking to ‘broaden’ its audience base (never say ‘skewing younger!’).
“iview has the power to draw in a unique audience that often doesn’t engage with the ABC. The 18-35 year old audience are the highest users of internet television.
“Glitch, in terms of the way it plays, skew a little bit younger with the bleeding eyes, and it’s very topical and current. So it felt like a natural fit with iview and something we could make a splash about. It’s also a strong Australians story, which is what we’re all about.”
Most adults content is available for a 14 day window (Kids content is 30 days) but new Australian seasons are ‘stacked’ with the full series available for 14 days after the last episode plays, to allow further discovery.
But if viewers want better resolution, the other burning question that arises: when will iview be available on Apple TV? Netflix, Stan and tenplay are already there. Is this another cost factor?
“It doesn’t cost money to be in it, but it costs money to build a compatible app so we are looking at that at the moment. Watch this space,” Heap promises.
The irony is, it is the sheer success of iview that has led to the platform’s next challenges. Realising them in a landscape of growing competition and pressures on the broadcaster is, perhaps, a good problem to have.
“Programme plays are up 30% for the same time last year. We’re getting more than a million plays each and every day now, with bigger bumps on the weekend. They are fantastic figures,” says Heap.
“There’s great pride coming from everyone who works on iview. It’s a real honour and everyone acknowledges that we are the local favourite. We have a great role to play, not only in Australian stories, but in being a great innovator and helping to change the market.”