New public affairs channel A-Pac sets its sights on the free TV market

Australia’s new public affairs channel A-Pac is to be used as a pawn in the war between free and pay TV, with its owners Foxtel and Austar trying to use it to grab a place on the free-to-air digital platform.

In a bombastic video just posted on A-Pac’s new web site, the voiceover states that the channel “will be made available for inclusion on digital free to air television.”  

Up to now, the digital free-to-air channels have been reserved for the existing free TV players, Seven, Nine and Ten, along with SBS and the ABC. The new channel – to be funded without the help of the public purse – was suddenly announced before Christmas in a move which was cited at the time as an attempt to outfox the ABC.

It will now make it harder for the ABC to call for public funding for a 24 hour current affairs channel when the pay TV operators are already offering one for free. The A-Pac video (described by blogger Peter Black as verging on propaganda) goes out of the way to make the point, stressing phrases such as “fully funded by Foxtel and Austar” and “at no cost” to the public.

The potential benefit to the public of having such a channel on free to air digital will also make it harder for the regulators to refuse the pay-operators’ request to allow them onto the platform.

But free TV is likely to fight any such move as it would increase competition for audience and they would fear it would be a vehicle for the pay operators to take advertising share out of the free-to-air market.

However the addition of such a channel to the Freeview lineup would help sell the public on the idea of free to air digital TV, which has been criticised as lacking in new choice.

Rather than A-Pac, the channel had previously been called A-Span in a reference to its US sister political channel C-Span. It will launch on Tuesday to coincide with President Obama’s inauguration.

The station will cover sessions of the federal government including Prime Minister’s question time, along with question time sessions from the NSW, Queensland and Victoria parliaments too. It will also cover the NZ Parliament and link up with C-Span for US coverage.

As part of the deal, coverage of the Australian parliament will now be available to C-Span audiences in the US, which the video modestly describe as “a critical breakthrough for Australia’s international interests.” After this announcement , it cut to a clip of President-elect Obama saying “This work is the core mission.”


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