English ORF TVthek: “The expansion benefits everyone”.
The digital on-demand platform of Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) is celebrating its 30th year of operation on 16 November. The number of monthly users has risen to close to 700,000 since ORF TVthek was launched in 2009. The offerings now include over 130 ORF programs. There is also a series of live broadcasts that has grown to include roughly 50 regular streams. The most-watched shows on the online platform to date include the society show Chili on the topic of Heinzl/Sido, the ZIB2 with HC Strache as a studio guest, the casting show Die Große Chance (various episodes), the wedding of William and Kate and the funeral of Otto Habsburg.
Now, TVthek is to be expanded further, both in terms of content as well as in terms of the lifting of time limitations in some areas. "As far as content is concerned, the focus is on offering not only our own productions, but also purchased content, for example from the BBC, for our educational programs like Universum and Menschen und Mächte on TVthek," explained ORF online director Thomas Prantner in an interview with futurezone. The archive for history is also to be substantially expanded. One reason for this is creating a solid offering for schools, where the programs are said to be important for educational purposes.
While the plan is to lift the time restrictions in the archive, the loosening of the seven-day restriction on the remaining programs is not high on the list of priorities, said Prantner. "We see that interest in calling up the programs diminishes rapidly in one to two days anyway." What ORF does want, however, is to lift the 24-hour restriction on premium sports broadcasts.
Preliminary assessment under way
ORF already submitted a "Proposal for revisions of the offer concept of TVthek.ORF.at" to the regulatory body KommAustria in September. This initiated a preliminary assessment to review the request. ORF cannot implement its expansion plans until KommAustria grants its approval for the changes. When asked by futurezone, Prantner said he expects that the individual steps of the process will take several months in any case. Because of this, implementation of the plans should not be expected before the middle of 2013.
ORF also plans to make technical improvements as part of the expansion. The search functions, accessibility and usability in general are all to be enhanced, said Prantner.
TVthek is already available on four different platforms: on the Internet, through a smartphone and tablet app (iOS and Android), through cable television, and as an integrated app in smart televisions. Especially the mobile app has enjoyed high demand in recent months, and was voted the best app of the year 2012 by the readers as part of the futurezone Award. A Windows 8 app is also planned, and TVthek is to be made available through further Austrian cable networks and through HbbTV.
The growing importance of mobile media also applies to TVthek. According to the most recent ORF statistics, 17 percent of all streamed videos (2.35 million) were called up using mobile devices.
Criticism of planned marketing
While the users would naturally benefit from every expansion of the online offerings, Austrian private broadcasters oppose the expansion of TVthek. They say this would give ORF, which is financed by mandatory fees, a competitive advantage. Especially the recently submitted application for marketing rights for TVthek is being sharply criticized.
"Television content that is financed by mandatory fees would be advertised a second time through TVthek. The distortions in competition that the mandatory fees cause in the television broadcasting market would be expanded to another market where private competitors, who are dependent on advertising revenue, have the possibility to grow," criticized Ina Bauer, head of the diversification department at the private television broadcaster ATV in response to an inquiry from futurezone. The expected revenue would give ORF a dominant market position over night, she fears. "Even if ORF`s considerations are based on the assumption that the marketing of TVThek would simply shift advertising spending to video advertising, only ORF would profit from this," added Bauer.
The publishers` association VÖZ is somewhat more open and approves the request for online advertising for TVthek with reservations. The publishers wish the revenue from the TVthek advertising to be used for the further development of the online offerings. The periodicals also want to profit from TVthek themselves, for example through the placement of advertising on their own sites.
Content expansion also facing resistence
The expansion of content on TVthek is also being met with resistance from the private broadcasters. "The expansion of the platform with the added offering of fee-financed purchased content and the ability to provide the programs for longer than the seven days that are standard in international law will further strengthen the position of TVThek in the viewing market and will further exacerbate the distortion of competition – which already exists on the television market – in the online segment," said Bauer.
She also sees direct competition for ATV`s Mediathek. "Ninety percent of the videos marketed on ATV.at are programs that are broadcast on television, with the limitation that international movies and series are not shown for licensing (cost) reasons," said Bauer. This means that ATV`s core business is its own productions. If ORF is allowed to implement its expansion as planned, Bauer said that ATV will "take all legal measures at its disposal" to oppose the changes.
Prantner is not deterred by the criticism: "Every broadcaster has a video portal. It benefits everyone when we expand the offerings on TVthek," said the ORF online director. The point is to expand the entire market for online video offerings in Austria, he said. "There is no reason for such voracious opposition," said Prantner.
Social media: "Don`t add fuel to the fire"
The current ORF law strictly limits the Internet activities of the public broadcaster. For example, KommAustria issued a complete Facebook prohibition this summer. This would have required that all fan pages and all Twitter accounts that are run in connection with ORF programs be closed. After massive media criticism and intense efforts by ORF, which took its case to the constitutional and administrative court, the prohibition was temporarily suspended . But because no final decision has yet been issued in the matter, there are no plans at this time to integrate Facebook or Twitter into the offerings of ORF`s TVthek, said Prantner. "We don`t want to add fuel to the fire so long as no clear decision has been made."
No American series
Prantner said that there will be no American series or movies on demand on TVthek in the future. Even if the ORF law were to permit this, which it does not, making this content available online would simply be too expensive. "We would have to obtain licenses for online distribution from the US broadcasters, and that would be very expensive," said Prantner. The ORF TVthek is also not designed for this, so ORF is not even considering anything in this direction.