Opinion

‘The great geoblock of Wollongong’: Bruce Gordon tells Nine to turn off live streaming, but to what end?

Nic-Christensen-234x151-234x151-234x151Bruce Gordon’s WIN has launched legal action to block Nine’s live streaming service 9Now in regional areas. Nic Christensen looks at the competing agendas that may be behind the move and the odds of the regional TV player being successful. 

I’m willing to bet Bruce Gordon isn’t the first media mogul to dream of switching off the internet.

But he is among the first to demand that major cities and towns, outside of the five main metropolitan areas, have their access to content geoblocked solely to protect his own corporate interests. 

WIN’s surprise legal action isn’t quite the equivalent of demanding that the “interweb” be turned off for his viewers, in areas such as Wollongong, Canberra and Mildura and other regional hubs (like most of Tasmania and Western Australian), that fall within his broadcast areas. But it’s definitely up there in ‘outside the box’ legal demands made by an Australian media mogul.

As this ACMA media ownership snapshot shows, Gordon’s TV Network WIN broadcasts to a large part of the country, including our nation’s capital.

Bruce Gordon media interest

Source: ACMA Click to enlarge.

But the Bermuda-based billionaire owner is demanding that Nine geoblocks its live streaming service to those areas where it broadcasts so as to not compete with its affiliate stations, which he owns.

nine win logosThe WIN court action raises a number of key questions both practical and philosophical, not least on a technical level: can you geoblock all of Wollongong? And if so do you block just IP addresses or ask consumers to provide postcodes? Won’t that just drive people to use VPNs?

The answers to these questions will likely come up in court today.

But even if you can technically achieve such a goal should an individual, who is also Nine’s largest shareholder, actively seek to deny regional viewers a service that their city-dwelling brethren have, while simultaneously denying revenue to his fellow Nine shareholders?

Sure he can try, but whether it’s a good look is another issue altogether.

It is interesting that WIN’s legal action appears to have caught Nine by surprise. Gordon has been pushing for a seat on the Nine board since he upped his stake in the Network back in October, and it’s hard to imagine taking this new court action will help his case.

As always with Gordon there’s never just one agenda at play and it’s worth noting that the likes of fellow regional TV networks Prime and Southern Cross Austereo will be expected to watch Gordon’s court action with interest. Although neither was invited to join the court action.

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Ever since Seven announced in August that it would begin live streaming its broadcasts (a move duplicated quickly by Nine), the initiative has angered and frustrated the struggling regional TV players. 

9nowTo quote the likes of Southern Cross Austereo boss Grant Blackley, the move makes a “mockery” of the existing reach ruleslaws that are supposed to prevent any one broadcaster from reaching more than 75% of the population – but this court action will only further heighten the pressure on the Coalition to act and allow regional players to merge. 

Whether that’s solely Gordon’s aim here is hard to know, but it’s worth noting that should WIN be successful in establishing what one TV executive described last night as “the great geoblock of Wollongong”, it is likely to be seen as a leveraging tool, ahead of the negotiations with Nine on its affiliate fees.

Late last year as negotiations struggled between the two sides (Nine insisting on raising fees, WIN saying it couldn’t afford them) the two sides kicked the can down the road in the hope that media reform would be passed before negotiations resume. The interim deal only lasts until June.

For WIN to get that negotiating leverage and force Nine to restrict access to 9Now, its refreshed catch-up service, which also offers live streaming, it will likely challenge the 2000 decision of former communications minister Richard Alston that “streaming is not broadcasting” in court.

It’s a contentious point and I can certainly see WIN’s argument that Nine is broadcasting into its licence areas. But at the same time the deliberate decision to ask a court to deny its viewers access to a service already available to metropolitan viewers, for reasons of pure financial self interest, shows a level of chutzpah rarely seen in Australian corporate life.

It might be a different story if WIN had its act together on digital and had its own offering (it doesn’t). Plus it has just the traditional broadcast rights to Nine content anyway.

Now whether or not you agree with the idea that streaming is broadcasting, WIN will – in the coming days, and possibly weeks – seek to test some key propositions that will be central to the future of broadcast and digital media. Likely arguing that Nine’s live stream is a form of broadcast and one that breaches its affiliate agreement.

The move will add tension to WIN’s relationship with Nine and does nothing for the regional broadcaster’s perception as a modern broadcaster (relevant when you’re asking media agencies and their clients to invest money with you).

Who will win may be unclear at this stage, but rest assured it will make for some interesting viewing.

Related: WIN takes Nine to court to try and block its live streaming service 9Now in regional areas

Nic Christensen is the media and technology editor of Mumbrella  

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