Working collaboratively with other ABC content areas, the Content Ideas Lab team concentrates on content innovation, by identifying and incubating new and distinctive ideas specifically aimed at the 30% of Australians who don’t consume ABC content on a weekly basis.
In 2018-19, the team finalised the development of the successful Great Ideas Grant (GIG) pitches from the 2017 round, transitioning three of the four active GIG projects out of Content Ideas Lab into the ABC’s ongoing business. Content Ideas Lab also played a pivotal role in coordinating pan-ABC content strategy, supporting the development of prospective major pan-ABC content initiatives, and developing models for continuous innovation through collaboration.
Throughout 2018-19, Content Ideas Lab’s two primary responsibilities were ABC International Strategy, and the lifestyle and wellbeing content portal known as ABC Life. Additional priorities were informed by two new pan-ABC groups, the Content Collaborations Working Group, and the Emerging Content Steering Group.
Great Ideas Grant (GIG)
ABC KIDS listen
ABC KIDS listen is a radio station and accompanying app for 2-5-year-old children. Originally a GIG project, KIDS listen completed a smooth transition into the ABC Children’s team in January 2019. The change opened up the station and app to a larger cross-disciplinary team of children’s content makers.
ABC KIDS listen’s highlights for the year included a collaboration between ABC Classic FM, Ensemble Offspring and composer Brenda Gifford, which resulted in Music for The Dreaming, a live show for young children performed at the Sydney Opera House in August 2018. A recording of the show was later distributed as a podcast for a broader audience to enjoy.
The Unravel True Crime project brings together ABC television, podcast, and digital teams to produce compelling investigative content examining Australian true-crime stories.
In 2018-19, Unravel True Crime launched two new podcasts, Barrenjoey Road and Last Seen Katoomba, which were supported by related television programming and innovative digital stories. Barrenjoey Road achieved an average complete audience of 845,000 across its three television episodes.1 Based on average downloads per episode, the Unravel True Crime podcast remains one of the ABC’s top-ranking programs.
In January 2019, the Unravel podcast team moved from Content Ideas Lab into ABC Audio Studios, to establish the series as ongoing ABC content.
Launched in July 2018, RetroFocus unearths gems from the wealth of the ABC’s archives, sharing the nostalgia and historic insights with appreciative audiences across ABC and external digital platforms.
The project is tracked monthly and continues to exceed initial KPIs for reach, engagement and retention. In 2018-19, RetroFocus videos surpassed 100 million Facebook views and had more than 5.7 million views on YouTube.2 Successful collaborations for the project have included work with the News Digital, Arts, Regional, Rural, Indigenous and Science teams, with more initiatives planned for the coming year.
Popular RetroFocus offerings included a video showing Professor Julius Sumner-Miller’s brilliant reaction to a live experiment’s unexpected result (20 million Facebook views) and a Four Corners ‘Voice of the People’ segment from 1961 which asked unsuspecting passers-by “Should husbands help with the weekend housework?” (610,000 YouTube views).3
Content is the ABC’s first scripted series in vertical video format. The seven-part comedy is designed to be viewed on a smartphone, with the world of BFFs Lucy and Daisy revealed through texts, calls, and app interactions. A co-production with Ludo Studios and the ABC, Content is an experimental program targeting younger audiences. Completed and due for release in September 2019, the series will be distributed across ABC social platforms.
ABC Life emerged from a GIG initiative, its primary aims being to reach new Australian audiences, and to trial innovative ways of working and presenting content in order to achieve that goal.
Working with ABC Product & Content Technology, the team launched the ABC Life online service in August 2018. Content on the site covers a broad range of lifestyle and wellbeing topics, with key editorial themes in 2018-19 including mental health and wellbeing, issues with alcohol, personal finance literacy, rights at work, cyber safety and social isolation.
ABC Life’s goal to reach one million monthly users onsite in 12 months was exceeded in February 2019 – a mere six months after its launch. The service approached its one year milestone reaching 1.2 million monthly users onsite in June 2019, with 63% of the audience being female and 54% aged 44 and younger.4 User survey information collected by ABC Audience Data & Insights in February 2019 indicated that ABC Life has been resonating with Australians across both metropolitan and regional areas as well as those with Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and non-CALD backgrounds. The platform is successfully reaching and engaging the new audiences it set out to attract and hold.
These strong audience outcomes were made possible by forging new ways of working that built on the existing talents of ABC staff. ABC Life provided professional development opportunities through the secondment of more than 20 members of staff from different ABC departments and locations around Australia.
One such secondment resulted in a Background Briefing investigation by Osman Faruqi into online abuse, which became a finalist in the 2019 mid-year Walkley Awards. Reporter Grace Jennings-Edquist also achieved industry recognition through the Michael Gordon Social Justice Fellowship, which led to an ABC Life series exploring the lives of refugees in regional Australia. In June 2019, ABC Life material was used by the Australian Human Rights Commission in its guide on how to conduct conversations about racism.
For the broader ABC digital ecosystem, ABC Life has served as a hub, enhancing discovery of content created across the organisation by driving well over 6 million onward journeys to other ABC content destinations since its launch.
Emerging Content Steering Group
Led by Content Ideas Lab, this cross-divisional group holds regular conversations on emerging content opportunities, with the aim of creating future content-creation priorities. Decisions from this group inform ‘hack’ days where a particular idea – such as new content for the ABC homepage, sports content for CALD audiences or ethics content for younger audiences – is explored, and the best are piloted. Each ‘hack’ day held in 2018-19 produced new approaches to storytelling delivered primarily through ABC Life but also via featured pieces on 7.30, News Breakfast and triple j.
Content Collaborations Working Group
Throughout 2018-19, Content Ideas Lab stayed connected to other parts of the organisation through creating and supporting a new approach to commissioning pan-ABC events. The Content Collaborations Working Group supported major initiatives such as the Australia Talks survey and TV program, and annual events such as NAIDOC week.
Rebranding the ABC’s international activities
On 1 July 2018, the ABC retired the international facing Australia Plus brand. The ABC’s international television service was renamed ABC Australia. The Australia Plus apps, websites and social media accounts were retired, merged or transformed. All ABC flagship social accounts are now using the ABC Australia logo to establish a consistent brand presence for international and domestic audiences.
The ABC’s international television service is available in 37 countries and territories across the Asia Pacific and the Indian subcontinent. The ABC Australia schedule is comprised of approximately 80% ABC news and current affairs content, with the remaining 20% being kids and factual content produced in-house or acquired from SBS/NITV and independent production companies.
ABC Australia has for many years broadcast drama and sport from commercial free-to-air networks across the region. International Strategy has also funded the production of short-form English language learning programs with ABC Education, such as Everyday English and Weather on the Go, for broadcast on the service.
While measurement of international broadcast audiences remains difficult, according to the Ipsos Affluent Asia Report 2018 there were 406,000 ‘affluent’ viewers of ABC Australia television each month in 2018, across nine markets. This represents a growth of 38% from the previous year.
ABC Radio Australia
ABC Radio Australia is broadcast as an FM service across the Pacific and in Timor-Leste, streamed online, and is available as audio-ondemand via the web and the ABC listen app.
The station provides Pacific audiences with the bespoke program Pacific Mornings and the half-hour news and current affairs shows Pacific Beat and Pacific Review. Audiences across PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are also served by the long-running daily Tok Pisin news and current affairs program Wantok. Responding to a need to connect with younger audiences across the Pacific, Island Music was launched in June 2019, providing a weekly two-hour program dedicated to reggae and related musical genres. The remainder of the ABC Radio Australia schedule is built around specialist RN and relevant Local Radio content.
While international broadcasters, including the ABC, do not have television landing rights within the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the ABC has designed a range of initiatives that enable it to achieve our Charter objectives in this market, and to serve content to the Chinese diaspora both across the region and domestically. In 2018-19 these activities included:
reciprocal arrangements with a number of Chinese broadcasters to schedule a ‘Window Week’ – approximately five hours of ABC content is provided for partners to broadcast over a week, during prime time hours, to their mainland television audiences
the distribution of the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks highlights to 32 international broadcasters, which reached more than 200 million people in the PRC through playback on national television and social media channels5
the provision of programs of high relevance and interest to the Chinese diaspora in Australia – such as the Four Corners episode ‘Tremble and Obey’ and China’s Artful Dissident – subtitled in Simplified Chinese and made available on domestic iview shortly after initial broadcast
the launch of a media campaign on Chinese social media channels Weibo and WeChat, and curated special collections with commemorative branding, to celebrate Lunar New Year
the publishing of selected audio, video and text content produced by ABC KIDS listen, ABC Education, and Regional & Local on prominent Chinese social and distribution channels like Youku, iQiyi, QQ, Miaopai, Weibo and WeChat, to meet demand for English-language learning.
OzTAM and Regional TAM Consolidated 28 Data, October-November 2018; OzTAM VPM. ↩
Facebook and Spredfast analytics; as at 31 May 2019. ↩