‘Foreign entities essentially control what Australians see on their devices’: TV bosses front Senate

The CEOs and managing directors of Australia’s free-to-air networks – Seven, Nine, Ten, ABC, and SBS – will front a Senate inquiry today to argue the importance of access to free TV in Australia.

The commercial TV executives will appear, alongside Free TV Chair Greg Hywood, and CEO Bridget Fair, to call for the prominence and anti-siphoning bill to be strengthened.

The bill prevents subscription streaming services such as Netflix or Apple from buying exclusive terrestrial broadcast rights to sporting competitions such as the Olympics, AFL, NRL, and cricket. However, these companies can still acquire exclusive digital rights, and paywall those who would otherwise view these events through the likes of 7plus, 9Now and 10 Play.

In addition, the networks are hoping to strengthen the prominence laws around free-to-air apps on smart TVs.

The issue of smart TV manufacturers holding local networks ransom over app placement got SBS managing director James Taylor fired up.

“It is frankly scandalous that these massive global tech firms can unilaterally insert themselves as gatekeepers between Australians and their free Australian content, trusted news and information – services that have been intentionally developed and underpinned by decades of public policy,” he told the Senate hearing this morning.

“These are examples of the corrosive impact the unregulated marketplace is having – it’s a free-for-all, where foreign entities essentially control what Australians see on their devices and can kick off a public broadcaster that has a particular remit to serve vulnerable and marginalised communities.

“Let’s be clear, these devices, or smart TVs, are essentially empty black boxes but for the content, be it news, sport or entertainment, paid for and delivered by content makers like SBS. People buy televisions to watch content. The set manufacturers do not pay a cent towards the content they are seeking to grab revenue from – the very definition of rent-seeking. They know the power they have over the primary access point to content in the home, and they are squeezing it for all it’s worth.

“Ubiquitous access to free television services that deliver valuable news and Australian stories are the result of purposeful public policy interventions over many decades. And Australians rely on these services – especially those who can’t afford to pay for streaming.”

Seven CEO, James Warburton, focused in on sporting rights, saying “live sporting moments bring our nation together and must remain free and accessible to everyone regardless of their income.

“The Matildas proved the importance of free, accessible content last year when they smashed TV audience and streaming records.

“The Matildas’ FIFA Women’s World Cup games brought millions of Australians together and truly united the nation. With more and more people watching sport online, excluding digital rights from these new laws is a serious mistake, one that means the laws fail to keep up with modern viewing habits.

Nine CEO, Mike Sneesby, said: “All Australians deserve free access to the sporting events, trusted news and entertainment programs that bring communities together.

“For free to air broadcasters to continue to provide these world class services we need the ability to provide them on all the platforms and delivery systems available to our audiences. It’s critical the Government provides the regulatory support required to ensure we can do the commercial deals that are necessary for us to provide these services.”

EVP of Ten, Beverley McGarvey, added: “No other platform or service has the ability to reach Australians and unite Australians like Free TV can. Millions of homes turn to us day and night because they trust us, whether that be to deliver local shows their friends and family are talking about or to stay informed and safe during crises. Only local free TV can deliver all that.

“We can’t let guaranteed access to free TV only be for those who can afford a new TV in 18 months time, particularly when families are feeling the pressure on their budgets.”

“The government should not delay the implementation of prominence rules because in our experience, these changes can be implemented much faster on new TVs and even for existing TVs that regularly receive software updates.

“That’s why we’re asking the Government to reduce the delay in implementing this change that could benefit millions of Australian households before the end of this year.”


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