Media reform is critical as it “gets down to survival”

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 15 September 2015

Australia’s media laws are holding it back on the global stage, according to Astra CEO Andrew Maiden, who said the regulation is so out of touch that it was “probably drafted on a Commodore 64 computer”.

Maiden was speaking at the 2015 Astra conference as the subscription television industry celebrates its 20th anniversary, noting the development of the industry couldn’t have occurred without the media reforms of the 1990s, which allowed the advent of Pay TV in the country.

“However, our investment and our initiative could deliver much greater benefit to Australian audiences,” Maiden said.
“Nothing would be surer to place Australia at a comparative disadvantage than to leave the current regulatory settings as they are,” Maiden said.

“Australian regulatory settings in the TV sector at the moment were probably drafted on a Commodore 64 computer without any comprehension of the internet’s potential to transform communications and broadcasting for the benefits of the consumer.”

Maiden pointed to anti-siphoning laws, which regulate the ability of subscription television to broadcast some sporting events, by noting that the regulation does not apply to new, global entrants in the Australian television market such as Netflix.

Rather than trying to apply the existing legislation to new players, Maiden said a better system would be to apply the least regulation possible to all content providers.

At a panel session at the conference, PwC’s Megan Brownlow said that when you look at trends, which show that the ad market is moving from local players to global players, broad media reform becomes about survival.

“When we look at the money side of the equation, and look at the imperative for media regulation and reform now… I am going to be crass about, it is about money,” Brownlow said.

“There has been a lot of sensitivity about that and that applications around the erosion of our tax base. Maybe that will be the impetus that they need to fix that.”

PwC forecasts for 2019 predict zero compound annual growth rate for TV and -6.9% for newspapers.
“We look at online advertising, where obviously the migration is going, that is in our expectation a 13% growth rate each year on average,” Brownlow said.

“The whole market is growing, it is substitution. It gets down to survival and that is why media regulatory reform is critical.”
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Kate Carnell said the lack of regulation for new entrants is one of the biggest challenges the industry faces.

“You can't regulate [new entrants]. Forget the idea you can pull them into the regulatory space, it is simply not going to work. The worst outcome, at least from where I sit at the moment, is to do nothing,” Carnell said.

“To do nothing would mean the subscription TV space would continue to be legislated. New entrants come in to the marketplace and start to eat up the space. The problem with that, your industry employs a lot of Australians, and not only internally but from an export perspective.”

However Free TV Chairman Harold Mitchell hit back at Maiden’s claims around anti-siphoning being part of the problem, noting that the recent sporting deals for the AFL and NRL rights by Seven and Nine respectively show that the rules benefit everyone, including the public.

“Free TV broadcasters do not hoard sporting rights,” Mitchell said. “We show everything we acquire and there is more live and free sport on television than ever before.”

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