‘Major missed opportunity’: Industry reacts to prominence and anti-siphoning findings

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Bridget Fair predicts a “nightmare scenario” if digital rights are left out of the bill.

Free TV and Seven have expressed their displeasure with the findings of the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications, in response to the inquiry into proposed prominence and anti-siphoning laws.

In particular, representatives have highlighted the need for the laws to cover existing screens, to keep sport available on FTA, and to make sure that the anti-siphoning list includes digital rights.

Bridget Fair, Free TV CEO, said the recommendations “represent a major missed opportunity to ensure that all Australians can benefit from free local TV services into the future.”

Seven West Media managing director and chief executive officer, James Warburton, added that the recommendations “totally misunderstand the needs of the Australian viewing public in 2024 and beyond.”

Beverley McGarvey, president of Network 10, has said the recommendations “do not provide equitable access for all Australians to free and local broadcasters and fails to meet contemporary audience needs.”

Existing screens

Fair said that a major issue with the report was that it had not applied the new requirements to existing TV sets in the market. 

“Every person with a connected TV sees the look and feel of their existing set updated on a regular basis. The changes required to implement the new prominence rules are no different.”

Warburton agreed, saying “it needs to apply to TV screens already in the home.”

For McGarvey, limiting the prominence rules to new devices “means only those who can afford a new TV will be able to easily access local free-to-air broadcasters.

“The majority of Australians with existing devices will be denied the same access to free TV that’s vital to connecting our communities, keeping us safe in emergencies, reflecting our unique identity and giving everyone a front row seat to iconic sporting and cultural events.”

Keeping sport free

Warburton and Fair said the Committee recommendations weren’t strong enough in regards to ensuring sport remains free for all Australians.

“The Senate committee has released a report that does not see merit in ensuring free sport for all Australians, particularly those who don’t have an aerial,” Warburton said.

According to Fair, “We’re running a real risk that in the not too distant future, if you want to watch your favourite sports, you will need to pay multiple streaming services to do so. Knowing that every Australian can freely access the big footy finals or gather around the TV for the Boxing Day cricket will be a thing of the past.”

Digital rights

As the proportion of households watching TV online grows to half by 2027, Fair has said that the anti-siphoning list will be “fundamentally undermined” if it doesn’t include digital rights.

In a “nightmare scenario,” Fair predicts that leaving digital rights out of the bill will see that “bidding for sport will become commercially unviable if free-to-air broadcasters can only acquire a narrow range of terrestrial rights, leaving paid services to acquire exclusive digital coverage.”

McGarvey added, “Live stream and BVOD viewing will very soon be the most popular way Australians watch their favourite sports, so leaving BVOD platforms out of changes to the anti-siphoning rules, doesn’t reflect contemporary audience needs.”

For Warburton, “Seven strongly urges the government to ensure that the anti-siphoning scheme includes the free digital simulcast of the broadcast stream and that Australians see the benefits of the Prominence Framework sooner.”

Implementing changes sooner

Fair did note that Free TV welcomed the recommendation to bring the implementation period for the new prominence framework down from 18 to 12 months.

Seven was in agreement with this, with Warburton adding: “Seven welcomes the input of the Greens through Senator Hanson Young who sees the merit in a shorter introduction for prominence.”

Including smart speakers

Earlier this week, ARN chief executive Ciaran Davis, Nine Radio managing director Tom Malone, Nova Entertainment chief executive Peter Charlton, and SCA chief executive John Kelly weighed in on the legislation in a joint statement. 

The four representatives called on the Bill to include radio prominence for smart speakers, and urged the government to begin immediate consultation on radio prominence in cars.

The recommendations ultimately were to “prioritise the implementation of radio prominence on devices such as smart speakers”.

“It is essential to both the radio industry and communities that regulations are introduced to ensure free, easy, and reliable access to local radio for all Australians – whether they are listening to smart speakers or in connected cars,” the statement read.

“Smart speakers are becoming more common in Australian homes, and we are concerned this is creating a situation where global tech companies are the gatekeepers of our audio choices, shutting out local radio.

“Equally as concerning is that very soon all new cars will come with a connected dashboard, with Google, Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music – but there is no guarantee they will have easy access to local radio.”

The recommendations

These are some of the Committee’s recommendations:

Recommendation One

The committee recommends that the Minister for Communications and the Australian Communications and Media Authority consider options for a phased approach to the proposed prominence framework and or a reduction to a 12-month timeframe.

Recommendation Two

The committee recommends that the Minister for Communications request that the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications, and the Arts prioritise the implementation of radio prominence on devices such as smart speakers.

Recommendation Three

The committee recommends that the Minister for Communications amend the bill to extend free-to-air codes of practice to online services.

Recommendation Four

The committee recommends that the Minister for Communications, on advice from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications, and the Arts amend the bill to allow the review of the prominence framework to be conducted within two years of implementation, as necessitated by rapid technological change.

Recommendation Five

The committee recommends that the Minister for Communications consider, either before or as part of the prominence framework review, other related reforms in the industry, to reflect the growing role of the internet, online service provision, and consumer behaviour.

See Also: Seven ramps up sports anti-siphoning lobbying with consumer-facing campaign for digital access

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