Product Futures: Defining a new product vision for Australia’s national broadcaster

28th November 2023
ABC’s innovation hub on Digital Product has rethought their ABC products to build a unified ABC experience for all Australians.  
Colourful ABC logo
Colourful ABC Australian Broadcast Commission logo at building location. Credit: Matt Leane /

This presentation was originally published on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and is republished with permission. 

Presentation by Tim Hardaker, Group Product Manager at Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Strategic work is often the very best example of the Goldilocks principle. Make it too esoteric and intangible and your intended audience won’t be able to grab a hold of the message you’re trying to convey. But make it too prescriptive and determined and you’re going to miss out on those magical opportunities where someone takes your vision and finds a new and exciting way to apply it to their specific domain.

This was the conundrum we took into the Product Futures initiative from its very outset. The analogy we threw around as a team was, “how might we move the ABC’s digital product suite into the electric car future, not the flying car future?” How do we prepare a strategy for the future direction our teams are headed that’s practical, pragmatic and easily interpreted – and arguably most important, can be applied to their existing problems to solve – while remaining inspiring and ultimately inspiring our next great leap forward?

Read more: CBC Corner: a digital portal offering more content to Canadian libraries

Before we head too far down the rabbit hole it’s probably best to start with the mandate set out for us. Product Futures kicked off in April 2023, when a cross functional team of specialists from across ABC Digital Product came together with product consultancy Future Friendly. We were given a 10-week window to define a unified vision for the ABC’s digital product suite over the next 3 years, with the specific aims of:

  • Meaningfully engaging with emerging audiences.
  • Help new and existing audiences more easily discover and follow the content and stories that matter to them.
  • More clearly define our unique place in an increasingly crowded media landscape.

Why do we need to be more careful and considered with how we engage new audiences? Because they have more choice than ever before. There’s no denying that the media landscape has fragmented, and you only have to look at the diagram below for evidence of this. In the past 35 years the ABC has evolved from one TV network and small handful of radio stations to multiplatform behemoth that brings more variety and choice to Australians through traditional broadcast channels and new digital platforms.

The ABC is also keenly aware of the existential need to speed up its transition from a broadcast-first to digital and on demand media organisation. It’s the core tenant of the ABC’s newly refreshed five-year plan. Our audience is moving at pace towards this future, and we risk losing our place as a relevant and trusted part of their daily lives if we don’t meet or exceed their expectations to provide the very best digital product experience.

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To best understand and design for our digital-first future, for this initiative we collaborated with our audience, stakeholders and subject matter experts from across the ABC and broader media industry. We took inspiration from the mountain of existing research and strategy documents relevant to this space, and we undertook qualitative deep dives through co-design and roadmapping workshops with subject matter experts from all corners of the ABC. This helped to inform our direction and articulation of areas we wanted to explore.

Through five rounds of concepting, prototyping, audience testing, synthesis and prototype refinement, it culminated in us arriving at a single key insight.

The suggestion of a ‘unified ABC’ might be interpreted by some as a suggestion we should greatly rationalise or consolidate our product footprint, “one app to rule them all” if you will. However, this is not the intended approach, unification of our digital experience means bringing our suite of apps, websites and digital platforms together for audiences who observe the ABC as a single, cohesive entity. Creating more meaningful and easily accessible pathways between our products and brands, and also serving a variety of content formats and types within existing experiences means we aren’t always placing the burden of discovery and consumption on our audience.

Teams working in siloes, and that construct flowing on to how an organisation’s products or consumer experiences are then delivered to their intended audience, is not a problem that’s unique to the ABC. There’s a well-known adage you might already be familiar with — Conway’s Law — that summarises it perfectly.

When I presented our Product Futures work at the Web Directions Summit in late October I asked the audience in attendance who else worked in a scenario where they saw their internal organisational structures/siloes shipped to their consumer and at least 75% of the crowd put their hand up. It’s a struggle to overcome, but the first step is being cognoscente of the barrier in the first place!

As we worked through the cycles of ideation -> prototype -> test -> synthesis -> refine, we were also able to broaden out the Product Futures vision from a single statement to a collection of finely tuned principles. These principles are the tangible strategies our teams are able to grab a hold of and implement into their individual product and platform vision.

01 — Digital native experiences.

The internet isn’t a broadcast medium. Designing and building for digital-native consumption requires;

  • Leveraging new formats, short form, vertical video
  • Engaging audiences and surfacing social proof and opinion through polls, reactions, and AMAs
  • Fresh, live and beautiful interfaces and interactions.
02 — Personalised by default.

People avoid content on topics they don’t like. More than just content recommendations, a highly personalised experience keeps you in control with;

  • A unique, personalised home feed
  • A shared personalisation profile across all ABC
  • Fine-grained manual controls
  • A separate space for curated content on critical issues
03 — Connected content across the ABC.

Discover everything that’s relevant to a specific interest or topic. Across all of the ABC. Follow stories, topics, people or programs with mixed-media content threads, so you can;

  • Stay up to date with the things you care about
  • Get the full picture on a particular issue
  • Dive deep into your specific interests.

Content threads also provide a place worth linking to from 3rd parties — giving people a reason to come on-platform.

04 — Frictionless journeys.

Modern audiences have no tolerance for anything short of seamless.

Logging in every session, downloading multiple apps, inconsistent experiences, and being redirected to different spaces are all reasons to leave.

Regardless of how our products are structured, audiences expect a unified experience.

Unified means

  • Easy access to any content, any time
  • A consistent experience regardless of device
  • Preferences, bookmarks, and progress shared everywhere
05 — Contextually useful AI.

When designed safely, AI can help audiences to access, discover and understand stories or topics they care about. Applications of this in practice may span:

  • Summarise stories and topics to help you make sense of the headlines
  • Offer multiple ways of consuming content that is relevant to you
  • Translate to your local language
  • Prompt you to learn more

With a unique value proposition of results trained on 90 years of trusted content.

So, now what?

Our teams have sprung into action, taking the Product Futures principles and applying them to their areas of focus. You’ll begin to see the results of this soon, as aspects of the Product Futures strategy begin to roll out in our audience facing product experiences.

At ABC Digital Product we are committed to working together to build a unified experience of the ABC for all Australians. We will succeed on our mission to grow audience numbers, supporting deeper, broader engagement across the entire breadth of the ABC’s incredible content slate. We will accelerate our experience and learning, and we will look to solve big problems once and scale the solutions for greater efficiency. And we will redefine a truly unique value proposition for ABC digital products.

“Unification of our digital experience means bringing our suite of apps, websites and digital platforms together for audiences who observe the ABC as a single, cohesive entity.” – Tim Hardaker, Group Product Manager at ABC

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