We cannot ‘hibernate during these events’: Industry responds to government relief package

The industry has welcomed the government’s urgent relief package to help media companies battling the ramifications of COVID-19 – including the suspension of content quotas for the rest of the year, $41m in tax rebates, and a $50m regional journalism program – but says further action is necessary.

Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany was particularly outspoken about the pressures the subscription TV business is facing, claiming current regulation is “effectively a discriminatory tax on Foxtel” and has created a “toxic competitive environment”.

“We are the most disrupted part of the television industry, a trend that is amplified with the impact COVID-19 and the lack of recognition in the package highlights a fundamental misunderstanding of industry dynamics within government,” Delany said.

Delany: Current regulation is discriminatory 

“Subscription television remains the most heavily regulated media businesses in Australia working under regime that was designed prior to digital disruption.

“Current regulation is effectively a discriminatory tax on Foxtel which impacts our ability to compete on a level playing field with free-to-air television.  This disadvantage has been compounded by the emergence of aggressive international players that are vertically integrated from content creation through to exclusive distribution with global scale and unlimited funding which has created a toxic competitive environment threatening Australian jobs and future investment in local content including sport.”

This month, Foxtel made 200 positions redundant and stood down a further 140 employees.

Seven CEO James Warburton said media businesses cannot “hibernate during these events, but our revenue is significantly impacted”, highlighting the “urgent need for regulatory reform”.

Warburton: We can’t hibernate

“This includes ensuring that foreign digital platforms are paying fairly for our content as well as reform of Australian content obligations, so we welcome the Government announcing its fast-tracked consultation process to deliver content reform,” he said.

Ten’s Beverley McGarvey, who became Viacom CBS’ AUNZ chief content officer and executive vice president last month when former CEO Paul Anderson stepped down, said the government’s announcement is “a great first step”, but further measures are needed in the short term given “we are only at the beginning of this global crisis, and the impacts to our industry, in both the revenue and production capacity, are likely to be felt well into the future”.


“The Minister was right to release the local content options paper without delay because it gives us the chance to shape the long-term future of our important industry before the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis make the decisions for us,” she added.

Nine CEO Hugh Marks agreed that the industry needs “urgent long-term solutions to the regulatory imbalance between highly regulated domestic media players and unregulated international technology companies”, while Commercial Radio Australia’s Joan Warner also said the measures “do not go far enough”.

“We are disappointed that commercial radio, as the most hyper local of the mediums, has been largely overlooked in spite of its continued delivery of service to the Australian community during the pandemic, and before that, during the bushfires and the drought,” Warner said.

“We have now opened discussions directly with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to discuss urgent action to reduce red tape and create a fairer playing field for Australian radio broadcasters.

“We would also like to see not just video content harmonised across local services and global giants but the delivery of Australian music requirements also harmonised across radio and global music streaming services such as Spotify.”

The options paper announced yesterday as part of the relief, developed by Screen Australia an the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), commences a fast-tracked consultation process regarding how best to support Australian content. Free TV’s chief executive, Bridget Fair – who this week argued in an opinion piece that free-to-air broadcasters must be “unburden[ed]” from “last century rules” – welcomed the release of the paper, which Free TV will respond to as part of the consultation process.

Fair: ‘Free TV broadcasters still account for the lion’s share of spending on film and television production in this country’

Fair added, however, that despite the suspension of Australian drama, children’s and documentary content quotas, “the ongoing requirement to meet the overall 55% Australian content quota remains a concern for the industry in an environment where there is less sport, drama and entertainment programming available due to the suspension or cancellation of many productions.”

Free TV also wants a code of conduct between media companies and digital platforms – one of the measures to come out of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry and Report – to be expedited, since “negotiations between the parties to date have been deeply unsatisfactory”. The ACCC’s Rod Sims acknowledged recently that the code was “all that more urgent”, but News Corp boss Michael Miller said he has “got very little confidence that we’re making progress”, and “at this stage, we can’t show that we’ve even got to the first base”.

The industry’s union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), said the options paper will guide an “overdue debate about the future Australian screen content”, and will take some time to digest and respond to given its length.

“While some of the proposals in the four models set out in the paper should be ruled out, such as total deregulation, a range of viable positions are canvassed,” the union said in a statement.

“MEAA strongly supports regulatory equality and platform neutrality. This means platforms have meaningful obligations, rather than all platforms being subjected to a vastly diluted Australian content regime.”

Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said the measures announced by her Liberal Party counterpart, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, are “an admission of deep failure” by the government, because “Australian media was already in crisis before COVID-19”.

“[The government says] they are ‘accelerating’ work to determine the future extent of Australian content obligations when they could not have gone any slower,” Rowland said.

Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland

“The Minister [Paul Fletcher] says ‘We need to re-emerge from COVID-19 with a regulatory framework suited to the 21st century that recognises today’s competitive landscape’. The fact is we should have gone into COVID-19 with a 21st century framework in place.

“When this third-term Coalition Government first took office, they knew Australia’s media laws were broken. The regulator had said so and industry had told them so, yet they failed to act.

“Since then their actions have been wholly inadequate for a sector that is essential at all times, but no more so than during a crisis.”


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