Critics emerge for ABC’s new compulsory sign-in, but it’s the shape of things to come

DMPG managing director James Wawne examines the benefits and the backlash of the ABC's shifting stance.

From July 1, all users of ABC iview will be required to sign in in order to view programs. Registration will become compulsory, with the national broadcaster asking for some basic optional profile information, stating that the move will help ABC support cross-device experiences and enable functionality such as watch lists and recommendations.

For younger consumers and those of us working in digital, the move will raise little surprise or concern. Recent consumer research tells us that the majority of consumers expect ‘connected experiences’ and ‘companies to anticipate their needs’ which necessitate users to identify themselves.

However, as is often the case when a national broadcaster announces any significant change, some vocal critics have emerged. One or two privacy experts have raised concerns around forcing users to authenticate, citing the risks that come with so-called ‘identified use’ and there is truth in what they say. In some cases, offering so-called ‘cut-down’ or unauthenticated experiences should be considered – though only if compelling research can justify it.

On the other hand, we don’t see banks, retailers, or indeed other notable global players in content streaming – Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Stan, BBC, Channel 4, Apple TV, HBO – shying away from user logins on grounds of privacy or security risks, nor advocating for unauthenticated experiences.

Limiting digital experiences to solely unauthenticated experiences is an untenable position, unless the goal is future obsolescence. As the ABC itself points out, SBS and other commercial broadcasters have already made the shift to compulsory sign in. We could argue that the ABC is playing catch-up in a market where competitive edge comes from first-party data and trust practices culminating in seamless experiences and relevant recommendations.

Seeing the bigger picture

In order to better understand the ABC’s shift to compulsory sign in, we must consider the wider context and an important shift that is currently occurring in digital.

We barely need to mention the now hackneyed ‘cookie apocalypse’ which, thanks to Google and Apple, ushers in the end of third party cookie support and brings lifespan constraints for first party cookies and their effective persistence.

As the digital industry moves away from cookies as a means to profile and target users, we can expect to see a significant increase in companies large and small asking users to log-in in the next six to 24 months. It is the shape of things to come in the (equally hackneyed) ‘post-cookie era’.

It’s clear the ABC has recognised this and understands that to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, they need a reliable source of the truth in terms of measuring user behaviour, content affinities and enabling personalisation across devices and are taking an unflinching position in requiring users to authenticate.

Communicating the value exchange and empowering consumers

So how should the ABC communicate its shift to compulsory sign-in? The key is to clearly articulate why users are being asked to sign in. What is the value exchange?

Other comparable broadcasters provide some great points of reference, with the BBC being a prime example. The UK’s national broadcaster provides clear, intuitive privacy information that gives a comprehensive overview of how user’s data is being stored, and why.

Add to this, other progressive trust practices such as empowering users to control how their data is shared and used through effective consent management, and the basis for sustainable long term relationship starts to form.

Other businesses should take note: the ABC’s drive towards mandatory authentication is a challenge that they will have to confront as they prepare for a future without cookies. One factor remains constant – consumer demand for relevant, seamless experiences across touchpoints.

James Wawne is the managing director of DMPG.


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