Networks urge government to protect free-to-air TV against ‘huge global players’

Australia’s free-to-air networks have reiterated the need for the government to protect free Australian television services from the proliferation of paid streaming services on smart TVs.

The campaign, “Don’t Let Big Tech Take Your Free Away”, was launched this week by the Free TV Australia collective, with a series of TV ads on all commercial free-to-air television networks, highlighting the need for legislation to ensure people can easily find their local free TV channels.

Free TV is asking the Federal Government to introduce new laws, a so-called ‘prominence legislation’, that require TV manufacturers to provide access to all TV channels provided by Australia’s free local networks; the installation of all local TV apps in the first positions on home screens; and free local TV content first in search results and recommendations.

More importantly, they are asking that the TV manufacturers don’t charge free-to-air TV for these privileges.

“The TV manufacturers are now demanding free local TV services pay large amounts – up to 30 per cent of their revenue – to even be included on their screens or in the app store,” explains Free TV Australia CEO Bridget Fair.

“That money would come directly out of Australian content.”

The campaign also took aim at what it feels are scare tactics employed by ASTRA, the body representing subscription TV, who launched its own campaign titled: “Don’t let the government control your TV”, in which it warns: “Services should not be hidden from consumers or altered both in terms of app accessibility and in search. That control should sit with the Australian public who are paying for their devices and the services available on them. Overwhelmingly they have said they want this control.”

A spokesperson for Seven told Mumbrella the Australian TV landscape should not be controlled by big tech companies.

“Big tech companies are making it harder and harder for Australian viewers to access free, culturally important Australian content, including local news, sport and entertainment programming,” the spokesperson said.

“The ‘Don’t Let Big Tech Take Your Free Away’ campaign highlights how tech giants control what people see when they turn on their TV and aims to correct the misinformation put out by some that the government wants to control viewer choice.

“Regulated prominence is about giving Australians the freedom to easily access free-to-air content as well as the subscription services.”

Speaking to Mumbrella, Nine chairman Peter Costello feels the Federal Government has already made its stance clear.

“The Government has stated its support for requiring free-to-air television and apps from Australian free-to-air television networks to be in a prominent position on screens, such as connected televisions, to ensure the continued relevance of locally made and focused content,” Costello said.

“We look forward to the government progressing laws to give effect to that commitment.”

Ten declined to comment to Mumbrella, leaving the official comments to Free TV, while SBS had nothing new to add, instead pointing Mumbrella to the following quote made in September by the station’s managing director James Taylor.

“The central point of the proposed prominence legislation, for which SBS has been advocating for a number of years, is to ensure that all Australians have access to free Australian content,” Taylor said.

“That huge global players are leveraging their dominant market positions to rent-seek, thereby reducing our capacity to make content for our audiences –- the Australian public -– is outrageous. This is precisely why prominence matters.”

The Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland tells Mumbrella the Government is “working to deliver on its election commitment to legislate a prominence framework so that Australians can easily access local television on smart TVs.

“Our guiding principle is that Australians should be able to easily find the local TV they rely on for Australian content, sporting events, news and emergency information,” Rowland said.

“Our prominence framework aims to support consumer choice by ensuring Australians continue to have easy access to local TV, amongst the plethora of new services that are available in the market.

“The Government has undertaken a thorough consultation process with a range of stakeholders to inform the development of the new framework, including a public proposals paper, and we thank everyone for the considered submissions that were made.

“This is a priority reform, and we are working to introduce legislation into Parliament as soon as practicable”.


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