The introduction of legislation around a prominence framework for connected TVs as well as an updated anti-siphoning scheme proposed by the federal government has been a mixed reaction by industry body Free TV and broadcasters Foxtel, Seven and Ten.
The prominence framework concerns new laws that require manufacturers to provide free of charge: access to all TV channels provided by Australia’s free local networks; installation of all local TV apps in the first positions on home screens; and free local TV content first in search results and recommendations.
The anti-siphoning scheme stops pay television broadcasters from buying the rights to events on the anti-siphoning list unless free-to-air broadcasters have the right to televise the event.
Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said Australian viewers are being steered in the direction of services that favour the commercial interests of big tech and TV manufacturers rather than being given access to the full set of free local television services that they want to watch.
"This legislation is an important step towards ensuring that people are not being served up incomplete viewing choices based on who has paid the most money to be in the line-up," she said.
“While we are still awaiting full details of the legislation it is clear that there are still a few issues to be resolved with the Government’s proposed model. We look forward to participating in the next stage of discussions around this important issue."
“The expansion of the current anti-siphoning rules to apply to subscription streaming services is an important new measure. However there is still an element of analog rules in a digital world with the failure to include free streaming rights in the proposed model. Australians should be able to watch key sporting events whether they choose to access our services through terrestrial broadcast or online streaming.”
A Foxtel Group spokesperson told AdNews that Foxtel is pleased to see the government has taken on board its concerns with restricting search and customisation on smart TVs which would have led to significant frustration for consumers.
"We will need to examine the detail of the legislation and in the meantime will continue to advocate for Australian’s right to control their TVs and connected devices they spend thousands on every year and enjoy with their families," said the spokesperson.
“Research shows that 1 in 2 Australians with a smart TV don’t know how to change the layout of their apps. This needs to be considered along with the implications of changing a user interface we have invested millions in across both our Foxtel and soon-to-launch Hubbl operating systems.”
On the updates to the anti-siphoning legislation, the spokesperson said that this could have been a great opportunity for the government to bring anti-siphoning laws into the 21st century to reflect viewing habits of Australians today and to protect the future value of much-loved Australian sport.
"The regime is already anti-competitive and clearly favours free-to-air broadcasters above Australians and above the needs of sporting bodies whose ability to invest in grassroots will be limited," Foxtel told AdNews.
“Foxtel Group was advocating that truly iconic events of national significance could be streamed free via our free streaming platform that has been built and invested in locally and is used by more than a million Australians. The outcome adversely affects technology platforms like ours that have a greater capability to invest in world-class innovation to enhance the broadcast experience for Australians.”
On the free-to-air front, Seven West Media MD and CEO James Warburton said the new prominence framework ensures that free local TV services are easily discoverable and acknowledges the importance of these service in a modern TV environment.
“We appreciate the government updating the anti-siphoning scheme to ensure online services cannot acquire the free-to-air TV rights before the broadcasters have had an opportunity," he said.
"However, by not including the free digital rights, Australians who only access free TV services through the internet may be deprived of free iconic Australian sports.
“We look forward to working constructively with the government to ensure these reforms are truly modernising and take into account how Australians are watching and will be watching TV into the future.”
A Network 10 spokesperson said the broadcaster supports the government’s prominence framework that will ensure everyone can easily find free Australian TV content on their connected devices.
“This will allow Australians to readily access local news, emergency information, sports and local content that reflects our lives and culture," said the spokesperson.
“However, we’re keen to review the finer details of the legislation and will continue to work with the Government to make sure the prominence requirements are robust and in place as quickly as possible.”
On the updates to the anti-siphoning legislation, the spokesperson said the government’s decision to limit changes to the anti-siphoning legislation to just terrestrial TV rights, doesn’t reflect the reality of audiences today and is incongruent to their stance on prominence.
“Very soon half of all viewers will be using internet connected devices to watch their favourite sports so Australian TV networks should be given the first opportunity to broadcast sports on every platform so all Australians can watch beloved sports for free on any device," Network 10 said.
Communications minister Michelle Rowland said modernising the anti-siphoning scheme will mean the iconic sporting events and moments that bring the nation together won't slip behind the online paywalls of international streaming services.
"These reforms have been informed by extensive consultation with industry and the community," she said.
Research from Free TV released earlier in the month showed that eight in 10 Australians want to be able to easily find free TV services on connected TV sets and do not believe local free TV service providers should have to pay a television manufacturer to secure a prominent position on the home screen.
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