Back to overview
Andrea Mocellin & Mario Beilhack
Looking across the Border: Quality Assurance in ARD/rbb
The digitization of the media and the accompanying drastic changes in the production of media content, its distribution and, above all, its use have led to a change in the programming strategy at Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb) as of 2019. Linear, classic media offerings on radio and television have been reduced in favour of the expansion of non-linear, time-flexible use of our public service content on platforms such as the ARD audio library and mediathek (media library), as well as on the so-called third-party platforms of commercial providers. For the quality management of rbb – and presumably also of all other ARD state public broadcasters – this systemic change means a major challenge in questions of controlling and evaluating the quality of public service content. Although the programming mandate imposed by the legislature has changed only slightly so far, it has been decisively sharpened in questions of programming quality with the new State Media Treaty. The new amended State Media Treaty, which is in the process of ratification by the state parliaments, provides for greater involvement of the supervisory bodies in fulfilling the programming mandate in terms of quality. What this new type of supervision will look like is currently in the making and will certainly have a certain dynamic effect on the development of public programming at ARD and ZDF. At the same time, an almost unmanageable amount of content produced for different platforms and channels has emerged for users who are difficult or impossible to reach with traditional linear offerings. This is especially true for younger target groups. The differentiation of media offerings takes full effect here. Younger people (under 50) prefer the time-flexible offerings and the sheer limitless variety of entertainment and information options offered by the web or apps on their devices. From the point of view of traditional media, a veritable “Marianas Trench” has opened up here. In addition, a lot of time-flexible content has only a very short lifespan and is therefore ephemeral. The classic quantitative and qualitative methods of measuring reach and success no longer lead anywhere here; a vast amount of very different usage data for the digital offerings must first be understood and correctly prioritized for a quantitative and qualitative localization. It was clear to us that quality management would have to break new ground here and that so-called “programme dialogues,” which we successfully conducted on a regular semi-annual to annual basis for traditional offerings, no longer seemed to be effective for non-linear offerings. However, the experience gained from these quality processes was helpful in developing a new quality procedure for the non-linear content. In order to address the volatility of these non-linear offerings and their speed of development, and also to arrive at a “faster” and effective evaluation, we introduced the so-called “digital portfolio matrix” at rbb, which in principle evaluates all non-linear programme offerings according to qualitative and quantitative criteria. “Evaluate” here is not to be understood as a final quality judgment, but as a kind of “appraisal” in the sense of “review” procedures. The goal here, as in the classic programme dialogues, is to give the programme-creating departments and editorial teams valuable pointers for the qualitative and quantitative success of their formats. We retained the tried-and-tested method mix of qualitative and quantitative evaluation but sharpened it by prioritizing the selection of evaluation criteria. A few qualitative evaluation criteria and the definition of “KPIs” for the quantitative evaluation are intended to provide a quick and orientation-giving “picture” for all programme-creating departments, a kind of “traffic light system” visually signaling in colour which offerings are performing satisfactorily or very well, or where there is a need for action for optimization. It is important that we have involved all relevant stakeholders in the development of the new procedure to create the greatest possible transparency and comprehensibility in the evaluation. The selection of quality criteria and the definition of KPIs must be recognized as “currency” by all programme-managing departments; only then can the “portfolio matrix” work and help with changes or adjustments in the bid strategy. It is important to note that quality control via the “digital portfolio matrix” cannot and does not intend to make programme decisions; it merely provides an objectified basis for doing so. Since qualitative evaluation takes more time than quantitative evaluation, which existing formats or channels are evaluated is determined with the departments managing the programmes. New developments or new channels are always fully evaluated. Not every individual format is examined, but all those that have a longer runtime or from which knowledge could be gained for new formats within the same editorial team (e. g., podcast series of six episodes or more) are. After half a year, they are then subjected to a review. Not all qualitative criteria have to be met by every format, but the ones that are central to public service quality and Public Value do. The regional criteria that are the focus of a state broadcaster are also important here. Based on this insight, the qualitative portfolio matrix is increasingly being used at rbb in the development of classic linear formats. The editorial team considers in each case which of the content-related criteria it wants to fulfill in addition to the obligatory public service criteria (programme mandate and core values). In this respect, it is a flexible model that can be used to control the range of offers within the portfolio. Overall, it can be said that digitization has given quality management an important role in qualitative programme management. The qualitative distinctiveness of public service content is of central importance in the digital age with its multitude of channels and platforms and must not be lost behind the premise of the necessary target group orientation. In fact, this distinction is also a guarantee of success precisely when it can be clearly perceived and found in high quality for these target groups.