Broadband future: Australia's Great Train Robbery moment on the NBN

ABC head of strategic innovation and development forecasts new medium for entertainment and information on the NBN

The National Broadband Network (NBN) will engender a new medium for Australians to entertain and inform themselves over the Internet, the Realising our Broadband Future summit in Sydney has heard.

In her keynote speech, Abigail Thomas, the head of strategic innovation and development at the ABC, said the big question was what difference the NBN would actually make in our lives.

"At the ABC we are intrigued and excited about what ordinary people will actually be doing," she said. "How will they get their information? How will they entertain themselves? How will they keep abreast of the news?"

She drew an analogy to the movement from theatre to film where at some point people realised they could use the camera anywhere and explore different visual possibilities. In particular she pointed to the American Westerns and Australian bushranger genre and described the NBN as potentially Australia's Great Train Robbery Moment.

"I don't actually think it will be when the NBN pipes will be laid, although that will obviously be crucial," she said. "I think it will be when someone tries something new and surprising; just pushes the limits a little bit further.

"Broadband is not just faster dial up, less buffering, faster page loading. It's not just faster video and audio. I think it will create the potential for new visual language – a new form of content perhaps."

Thomas then introduced examples such as a detective show created by HBO in the US – called The Affair. The show is presented online with four different screens, each with a different point of view of the story, on a rotatable cube. Viewers can also interact with each other through IM and other functionality

"She has to watch all four sides of the cube to get a sense of the story," Thomas noted.

(You can see a demonstration in Thomas' presentation or go to the HBO website. )

Thomas also introduced other examples such as; The ABC's Gallipoli The First Day; using YouTube to upload videos without upstream limitations; creating and sharing in real time cartoons or comics; MSNBC's Spectra Visual Newsreader; and others.

In short, Thomas' contention was high-speed ubiquitous broadband like that promised by the NBN would enable greater uptake of these kinds of offerings and also generate further innovation in the same vein.

"All of these sites exist today and I think what they are showing is people testing the limits of the Internet," she said. "We really will see the NBN bring a new medium which will be different to today's Internet."

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