Australian TV Moguls Sceptical of Media Reforms

24 March 2006

It seems that Australia's long anticipated media reforms, outlined last week by communications minister Helen Coonan [WAMN: 16-Mar-06], don't amount to the unalloyed free-for-all desired by the nation's media moguls.

One week on, most major media groups are privately expressing scepticism over the plan's prospects for success, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Media-owners argue that winning commercial support for the proposed two new digital TV channels will be difficult while the internet offers many opportunities for expansion based on established services.

Also, vociferous lobbying is expected from the free-to-air TV sector, anxious to ensure that digital services do not threaten existing revenue. Opponents point to the global lack of any proven model for successful commercial-free dTV.

Mobile TV is the sole category expected to attract significant interest, with pay TV operator Foxtel and investor Macquarie Bank both expected to pay serious heed to the medium. The latter's communications fund is currently piloting a 16-channel mobile service.

However, there appears to be little interest in generating channel-specific content for mobile TV, with industry executives expressing doubt that such services could be funded either by advertising or subscriptions. At best, they say, mobile services would carry existing TV channels.

Senator Coonan, who piloted the first phase of the proposed reforms, has emphasized that a successful introduction of new services next year is a pre-condition of easing ownership rules. Assuming that the government's resolve holds fast, that fact alone should concentrate the moguls' minds wonderfully.

Meantime, the Australian Communication and Media Authority on Wednesday published a discussion paper on the future use of the two unassigned digital channels. But the body's optimism in assuming there will be sufficient interest to drive a price auction is open to question, say media insiders.

Apparently undeterred, ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said: "ACMA would like to hear from people on what the channels might be used for and how they might be allocated. We are particularly looking to hear from those who are interested in providing services using the channels."

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff