Worner: 'Level the playing field on fees, not sport'

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 25 October 2016
Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner.

Media bosses have sharpened their focus on breaking down barriers that provide an unfair advantage to digital media giants – but Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner has called for protectionist laws that prevent Foxtel from bidding on certain sports to be expanded into new digital platforms, a Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee heard yesterday.

Network Ten chief executive Paul Anderson warned that without major surgery to Australia's draconian 3.375% broadcasting license fees, local content production faced an “uncertain future”.

He said the fee should be no more than 0.2%, similar to what is paid by UK TV companies to broadcast on public airwaves.

“Despite Netflix commissioning 71 new television series this year at a cost of around $6.4 billion dollars, not one of those series is Australian, and Netflix does not employ one person in this country,” Anderson told the committee.

Emphasising the point, Seven West Media chief executive Tim Worner said that Netflix spent more on content than the whole Australian TV industry, citing a recent World TV Production Report from market research company IHS Markit.

In the report, which is based on annual report investment data and market estimates, Netflix spent $4.9 billion on content compared to Australian TV's $2.4 billion, although AdNews understands these figures don't include investments made by Stan.

“Netflix employs precisely one person in this country, I’m not sure if they live here,” Worner said, before adding that the viability of Australia's whole production ecosystem is at stake.

Anti-siphoning should expand

Although Worner supports removing that barrier to competition, he wants another that benefits free-to-air broadcasters expanded to include streaming companies.

The anti-siphoning law were designed to make sports freely accessible to all Australians but were written in a pre-internet era and effectively only apply to Foxtel. They don't encompass streaming companies that have made recent moves into sport, such as telco Optus.

Worner said the list should be “extended to new content platforms”, not “dismantled” or “trimmed”.

Presumably, this would have prevented Seven from charging viewers to stream premium content in its recent Rio Olympic Games coverage.

Neither Worner or Anderson are keen on splitting the media reform bill, positions they have maintained throughout this protracted saga.

More of the same

The hearings are the second time media bosses have been asked about Mitch Fifield's media reforms bill and largely cover familiar ground.

Regional TV bosses said the viability of free-to-air regional television was at stake and abolishing the 75% audience reach and two-out-of-three cross media ownership rules would allow Prime Media, WIN and Southern Cross Austereo to explore more sustainable ownership and business model structures.

Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood also spoke about removing barriers that prevent media companies from operating across multiple platforms at a time when traditional media audiences and advertising revenue in print and TV is shrinking.

Removing these restrictions would help media companies operating in challenged mediums to build scale and cross-platform capability to compete against much larger digital media giants.

Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment, which jointly fund SVOD Stan, have long been rumoured for a cross media tie-up if the laws are changed. 

Hywood pointed out the pre-internet laws don't make sense when rival News Corp already has commercial interests or "family connections" in print, TV and radio across much of the country.

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