Now the WIN/Nine battle is over, TV industry needs to show unity

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 28 April 2016
AdNews journalist Arvind Hickman.

The term 'broadcast' was first used in the mid-18th century in reference to spreading seeds via a 'broad' (or wide) 'cast'.

In modern times, this farming term has come to represent the transmission of information and programming through TV and radio – as outlined in the Broadcasting Services Act.

In recent months, this somewhat dated term has been challenged by regional broadcaster WIN in an attempt to have the rules re-written in an expensive court battle with metropolitan partner Nine. 

At the crux of the case, WIN is trying to prevent Nine's streaming service 9Now from showing programs in WIN's geographical region. This week, WIN's case was give short shrift by NSW Supreme Court justice David Hammerschlag.

In truth, WIN's case was never likely to succeed - not least because the terms of the WIN/Nine agreement explicitly avoids streaming.

But does WIN have a point about the need to reform broadcast services laws that were first drafted in the 90s?

It's easy to sympathise with WIN, Prime Media, SCA and other broadcasters who have seen regional advertising revenues nosedive in recent years to the point where the viability of these businesses is under serious threat.

However, reforming the Broadcast Services Act, and the definition of what a broadcast constitutes, is akin to applying cosmetic surgery to a business that's on life support.

Media ownership laws, currently being debated in the Senate, is where urgent reform is required, and WIN is well aware of this.

Having separate metropolitan and regional broadcast ownership no longer makes sense, particularly in an increasingly borderless media market.

These business models are already feeling the strain of a declining regional advertising market. Adding geoblocks won't stop the rot, it will merely delay it.

The 75% reach rule is already a relic. Nine may not broadcast free-to-air content via linear TV to more than three-quarters of the country, but anyone with an internet connection can access its streaming service 9Now, and accessing content in via catch up will only grow.

WIN's court case may be a last ditch attempt to protect its patch, but one wonders whether a struggling regional broadcaster that has publicly bemoaned its precarious financial position could have used its funds (or at least that of its billionaire owner) more effectively - particularly when change is already on the horizon.

Rather than seek to divide the free-to-air market with artificial geoblock barriers - which tech savvy viewers can already overcome - a better approach would be to forge closer ties or even prepare the groundwork for future mergers once media reforms are given the green light - it is expected that the 75% reach rule should be a shoe in.

TV's appeal to mass audiences, metro or otherwise, is being challenged by several factors, not least digital media giants attempting to call Australia home.

It's a time when the FTA TV sector needs to show unity, rather than division, for the bigger and bloodier battles that lie ahead.

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