‘Australia can’t afford to allow digital platforms to continue their monopoly unchecked’: Media businesses respond to the ACCC Digital Platform Inquiry Final Report

The ongoing saga of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s Digital Platform Inquiry is entering its final phase for 2019, with media companies preparing and lodging their responses to the final report to the Treasury before the government is due to make a decision on the 23 recommendations from the 600+ page report.

Overwhelmingly, the companies have supported the suggestions handed down from the ACCC, which include changes to codes of conduct, revenue models, and a bigger focus on data privacy.

The ACCC Digital Platform Final Report was handed down in July

The report has already seen responses from Ten and Free TV, which called upon the government to accept the recommendations, particularly those affecting the broadcasting industry, and both Facebook and Google which were less supportive of the report and its classifications of the platforms.

Now Nine, Seven and News Corp Australia have also added their thoughts to the final report, as they prepare their submissions for the Treasury.


Seven was first out of the gate, with newly instated CEO James Warburton saying the digital platforms have been taking advantage of a lack of rules for too long and calling for the key recommendations to be “urgently implemented”.

“The Digital Platforms Inquiry process has been running for almost two years and what it has shown is what we have known all along, that regulation has not kept pace with technology and the foreign-owned platforms have been given a free kick for too long,” said Warburton.

Warburton joined Seven in August, taking over from long-time CEO Tim Worner

“Foreign digital platforms are almost entirely without rules and urgent action is needed to remedy the regulatory disparity that is holding Australian companies back and has given digital platforms a free ride off the back of our content investment – all while they aren’t paying their fair share of tax and take no social responsibility.”

Warburton’s comments echo the recent concerns raised by Free TV’s Bridget Fair in the body’s response to the ACCC report, as well as those raised by the Make It Australian campaign, led by the Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG), Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG), Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) and Screen Producers Australia (SPA).

The campaign presented an argument to politicians in Canberra last month that the quotas provided to Australian broadcasters regarding local content requirements should also be extended to global digital platforms, including Netflix and Amazon, buoyed by the recommendations in the ACCC report. Seven’s comments claim Australian commercial TV networks spend around $2bn on content each year, 75% of which goes to local content.

Warburton said more support was needed for local businesses.

“More needs to be done to support journalism, particularly in regional areas, as other countries around the world are doing. We believe a wider range of government support need to be considered, including tax incentives,” said Warburton.


Nine’s 36-page response to the ACCC report also widely supports the recommendations, saying it isn’t commercially sustainable for publishers and broadcasters to continue with the current terms in place.

Firstly, Nine said the lack of regulation on the digital platforms gives them an artificial advantage over publishers and broadcasters who operate under strict requirements and guidelines, thereby presenting the digital players with an upper hand when it comes to attracting advertisers. Based on this, Nine strongly supports the ACCC recommendation of a regulatory framework to be put in place between the platforms and media businesses.

Referring to the digital platforms as “unavoidable business partners”, Nine’s statement said it hopes the government will consider the media market as a whole in its response, including Australian content and journalistic content, as well as competition in the media and advertising services.

One of the core issues, according to Nine, is that the digital platforms benefit from the content provided by publishers and broadcasters which is available on their platforms, but continue to provide “rigid business models” which don’t work for the content providers, thereby “free-riding” on the media. Nine said in this respect, not much has changed from the company’s first submission to the ACCC at the beginning of the investigation.

Regarding the issue of Australian content arrangements, Nine said: “The current arrangements for monetising Australian content on the digital platforms are not sustainable and there are significant missed opportunities. Being present on these platforms is important for reach and engagement. However, there is a great deal of production and monitoring required by Nine to have a responsible presence on Facebook and Instagram, yet this content and news and sport cannot be adequately monetised by Nine.”

Nine’s submission to the Treasury included several mocks of how advertising could be included in its Facebook content [Click to enlarge]

Nine mentioned its advertising and technology partnership with Google, through its metro publishing business (the titles formerly under Fairfax), and Nine’s work with the company as a participant in the YouTube partner sales program, but said the terms of the agreements are restrictive and referred to a lack of transparency.

Nine also referenced its partnership with Facebook Watch, but said the agreement isn’t an optimal model. Nine’s Lizzie Young recently spoke out about the frustrations between Nine and Facebook, saying the broadcaster had only seen 20 second watch times on its exclusive content for Facebook Watch.

Nine also addressed the support provided to publishers by Google and Facebook, both of which have been increased in the months since the ACCC handed down its final report.

“The Google News Initiative and Facebook Journalism Project fund various activities with the overarching goal of enabling news media companies to develop sustainable digital business models. While they may fund certain interesting initiatives, there is no sign that they will make a meaningful contribution to an ongoing business model for journalism,” read Nine’s response.

“The argument that the platforms support journalism through grants and training initiatives is fundamentally flawed. These programs and grants are arguably an effort to train news businesses into their low-return business model. This should be a concern for policy makers as it will ultimately lead to the commoditisation of news and Australian content.”

Nine opposed suggestions in the ACCC report that privacy rules need to be increased or altered, or that a statutory tort needs to be introduced for privacy invasions, saying the ACCC should look to learnings from both Europe and the US which show the complex ramifications behind changing privacy regulations.

Overall, Nine said it has been disappointed by the fallout from the ACCC investigation with the digital platforms which have ignored their impact on the industry.

“It has been disappointing to see the Digital Platforms continue to ignore the harm they are causing to Australian media and news journalism. What is more disappointing, however, is that we can easily co-exist. By engaging with the Australian media to offer a solution that commercialises premium news and Australian content, the adversarial nature of this review process can cease and a mutually beneficial relationship can be developed. Nine is willing to engage constructively on this basis and we invite the digital platforms to do so as well.”

News Corp Australia

In a piece printed in The Australian, News Corp Australia CEO Michael Miller said the big tech platforms have damaged journalism on a scale matched by nobody else.

“Their extraordinary profits are based on their unfair commercial exploitation of other people’s content — and powerful legislative changes are needed to correct this imbalance,” the statement read.

Miller has gone in swinging on Facebook and Google in a piece written for The Australian

“Platforms like Google should be banned from using content produced by publishers and the data generated from it until they negotiate a fair price for their use with publishers. News Corporation has made this point strongly in its submission to Treasury, which is currently considering the government’s response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.”

The lobbying from Google and other digital platforms which aims to position them as friends to media companies cannot be ignored, said Miller, and is a smokescreen aimed to confuse the government into taking a softer approach with its final response.

Miller challenged Google Australia boss Mel Silva’s comments in response to the ACCC report, and an interview in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) with CEO Sundar Pichai, which said the platform is looking to work with publishers. These are part of the overall push by the platform to bamboozle lawmakers into believing the platform wants what is best for publishers, said Miller.

Miller said News Corp supports the recommendations by the ACCC that a specialist digital platforms branch be created to monitor the practices of the tech giants, something which has been overwhelmingly supported by all responses to the report so far from media companies and bodies. Both Nine and News Corp said the ACCC should be the regulator of a code of conduct, not ACMA as stated in the DPI Report.

Advertising and fair monetisation was again a focus of the response, with Miller saying the dominance in the space didn’t provide a viable commercial offering for publishers.

“Google’s advertising dominance not only crushes would-be competitors, it forces anyone wanting to build a business in Australia to play by its rules just like inmates locked in a prison,” said Miller.


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