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Facebook and FreeTV Australia draw battle lines over ACCC digital platforms inquiry

The battle lines between the media industry and online services in the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s inquiry into digital platforms have become clearer, with FreeTV Australia and Facebook releasing details of their submissions to the investigation.

Industry body FreeTV will urge greater regulatory oversight of the online platforms to level the playing field with established media operators. Meanwhile, Facebook paints a positive picture of the service’s benefits for advertisers, publishers and users while describing what it claims are threats to its business model.

The Free TV submission flags a number of concerns for Australian advertisers including questionable claims about the reach and effectiveness of advertising on the Facebook and Google platforms, the market barriers created by the tech companies’ data banks and the lack of independent measurement tools.

FreeTV also claims consumers too are affected by Facebook’s dominance with the industry association warning about the lack of informed consent of their information, privacy risks and the dangers of personal data being misused.

In describing FreeTV’s submission, CEO Bridget Fair said: “This is a watershed moment for the media sector. Google and Facebook have become virtual monopolies, with huge influence and market power, but very little regulatory oversight.

“We are competing with these platforms for advertising dollars and for viewers. The ACCC has a critical role to play in ensuring that this fight occurs on fair terms.

“Commercial television broadcasters are still operating under a regulatory framework which was largely conceived in the 1980’s.

“We are the cornerstone of the Australian production ecosystem and the source of trusted news content that is vital to our democracy. The ACCC needs to ensure that the regulatory framework does not inhibit competition so that all Australians can continue to enjoy the local news and entertainment content they depend on.”

Facebook’s submission, backed by a study from the Queensland University of Technology, claims the shift in how people access and use entertainment has created new opportunities for consumers and business but created uncertainty for established industries.

The social media service contradicts FreeTV’s claim that it has a ‘virtual monopoly’ in advertising, claiming the existence of Demand Side Platforms and agency trading desks creates a dynamic market where ad spending can be switched between channels instantaneously.

Facebook’s submission also claims the spread of programmatic advertising to television and established media companies developing their own data platforms along with potential new market entrants are further threats to their business.

Addressing FreeTV’s claims that possessing massive data sets provides a market barrier, the social media service points out there are many different sources and ways of collecting information including licensing from other providers and cites other services such as Amazon, YouTube and LinkedIn which are creating similar troves.

The social media service also points the datasets are of little use without effective analysis and the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence present further threats to their business.

Mia Garlick, Facebook’s director of policy for Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement: “We operate in a fiercely competitive, multi-sided marketplace where we – like all ad-supported businesses – must attract, engage and balance the interests of our community, advertisers and publishers to meet their rapidly-evolving preferences.

“Facebook is just one part of how Australians interact, and we must constantly innovate to ensure we’re meeting people’s expectations – from designing new features to giving people better controls over their experience. We work every day to create free tools that enable people to have meaningful conversations, to be informed and to be connected to each other.

“Just as Australians connect with community groups, causes, politicians and businesses that are important to them, they may also choose to connect to local news and media organisations to consume and share content online.

“Whilst news represents less than five percent of the content that is shared on Facebook, we are committed to working with local publishers to identify new ways that we can support them to report the news, monetise their content and engage with their audience.”

Mumbrella understands the ACCC will be making submissions made to the inquiry available to the public by the end of the next week.

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