The Abbott government's review into the efficiency of the ABC and SBS has made a curveball recommendation in its findings; it suggested that Australians should have the option of paying for iView to access archival TV shows and special content. Such a charge would boost funding for the public broadcaster, countering flagging sales of DVDs and CDs in ABC stores.
The ABC and SBS Efficiency Study, announced at the end of January this year by government communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, has been coordinated by Peter Lewis, formerly the chief financial officer of Seven West Media. While the study's findings are confidential, Fairfax Media says the executive summary of the review includes a recommendation that a paid subscription model should be introduced by the broadcaster for its online streaming service.
Paying for iView would be a way for the ABC to offset a decline in sales of CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs from its network of ABC Stores around the country, run by the commercial wing of the corporation. iView is an expensive service for the ABC to provide, and it has quickly increased in popularity since its launch in mid-2008. As of March this year, over a million Australians accessed iView every month, and over three million video streams were initiated.
The ABC covers the cost of iView, and pays for the cost of hosting its library of on-demand video, which is rivaled only in size by SBS On Demand. There's a lot of money being invested in iView for the public good, and the Lewis review has suggested that the public contribute (more than by just paying taxes) to fund its ongoing development.
The statement from Turnbull's office at the start of this year gives a broad overview of the aims of the Efficiency Study:
The study will examine costs for the day-to-day operations which deliver ABC and SBS programs, products and services, and propose options to increase efficiency and reduce expense. The objective is to ensure ABC and SBS fulfil their Charter responsibilities at least cost to the community, and keep pace with rapidly changing practices in the broadcasting sector.
While at the moment the review's recommendations are only that — recommendations — it raises the question of whether Australians should pay to fund the ABC's innovations and developments that keep the national broadcaster both competitive and on the cutting edge of media in the modern day.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has said that the review was a "report to government, not a report from the government", and that the government was under no obligation to accept or act on its recommendations — but the possibility is open in the future.
Would you pay for access to iView, whether it's for older archival content, for higher quality streaming or for digital downloads? Let us know in the comments below.