EXCLUSIVE: He has been the Chairman of Pay TV body ASTRA since 2008, but what does former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks actually watch?
As he explains to TV Tonight, his favourite channels are FOX Sports and HBO content on Showcase.
“Obviously I’m a big FOX Sports fan and I’m very pleased the FOX Footy channel is back in a big way. Some of the analysis and commentary is first rate,” he says.
“I love most of the HBO series. I was watching Rome and The Tudors before most people. I thought Boardwalk Empire was good and I was very pleased with the adaptation of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. I thought the production values in that were outstanding.
“My wife is hooked on Lifestyle shows. Kevin (McCloud) is a great feature in our household. People like him. Women like him too, by the way. He’s iconic. There’s something about him.
“I have watched Game of Thrones but I didn’t think it was for me. But then I did get into it. It was actually a lot better quality than I thought it would be. I thought it might it be for a younger age group. Has the new season come out yet?”
As a man whose political career has seen him under the news spotlight, he also follows SKY News.
“David Speers is one of the best federal rounds journalists going around, and the verification of that is the fact that on the last two federal elections he’s been picked for the debate,” he says.
“The quality of the analysis on SKY is excellent, they break stories early. It has really come of age and has caused their competitors to think about what they do and how they do it.
“If news breaks -and I know that you can get it on News 24- but I know SKY will be there. It’s that early and quick response of being there when news breaks. They’re very good at that. They’re connected very well and they work so hard. I’ve never seen people work so hard as the SKY News team. They don’t have the same resources as a lot of the terrestrial networks but gee they do it well.”
Bracks also makes the most of Foxtel technology such as the IQ and Remote Record app.
“We use the hard disk quite a bit for storing things that we can’t see when we’re out. If we’re away we’ve got the Foxtel app on the iPhone.”
Bracks was asked to take up the ASTRA Chairman role by former Foxtel CEO Kim Williams, replacing former NSW Premier Nick Greiner.
“Kim out of the blue came to see me a couple of years after I had left as Premier and said he had an interesting suggestion. We discussed it, I considered it. I liked the people involved and the young nature of the industry and the place they were carving for themselves, so I thought I would take it on.”
Enjoying the variety it offered from his other post-Premier roles, Bracks is also an advisor to Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Xanana Gusmao, is an Automotive Envoy for the Australian Government and chairs a Superannuation fund Cbus.
“I have a good spread but this is different. It’s a different segment of the economy in a new, aggressive part of the media offering in the country. I like it, it’s a good challenge from my point of view.”
The role also requires Policy and Advocacy and he surely draws on his political experience for pushing those cases.
“There’s a history of protection in this country, more so than any other country in the world, really, for the existing terrestrial networks. It’s quite unusual to have this level and strength of protection. In the development of industries that can be quite useful but this is a mature industry that should stand on its own feet,” he says.
“The public should be the overriding issue, so to seek an open and competitive market with the best product going to the public is something I’m pushing.”
The Pay TV lobby has been unhappy about Free to Air broadcasters enjoying licence fee rebates, because they feel it makes the playing field uneven.
“The rebates were a temporary measure because of the Global Financial downturn in order to mitigate the financial squeeze which the industry was facing at the time. But of course it did recover. Advertising revenue increased but they kept the subsidy. We said at the time ‘We believe this subsidy will not come off,’ and it hasn’t. It’s still there and it’s largely a gift to the industry and reduced revenue to the taxpayers of Australia.”
Sport is traditionally a big driver to subscriptions, but STV is still waiting for the government to legislate changes to the Anti-Siphoning list.
“We’re still waiting for the changes to come in to reflect some of the new TV rights deals and they still haven’t come in,” he says.
“It still hasn’t been legislated! And it’s the longest list in the world!”
Recent events such as Foxtel’s Olympic offering highlight the difference with Free to Air. Bracks can’t resist a dig at Nine’s Olympic offering.
“What on earth were they doing putting the same content on their second channel as their first channel? That is seriously weird.”
But without more Sports rights available to them, can STV lift penetration from 33% to the desired target set by Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein? Bracks says the number is achievable. He rejects recent comments that STV fees are not affordable to customers.
“The reality is the figures don’t show that. During the Global Financial downturn you did not see a reduction in Subscription TV households. People weren’t cancelling their subscriptions. There wasn’t a churn rate that people predicted. It moderated from a 10% growth annually to something around CPI, which it is now. So I don’t agree with that comment that it’s priced wrong for the market. It’s much more about a capacity to get product and have a level playing field to buy that product and give good value back to customers.”
He also believes that while the NBN roll-out may provide more access to free content, there are opportunities for new products.
“Who is best to deal with issues such as providing the internet connection as a total experience in the home? We should be in there. We should be doing that. One of the things we offer is Subscription TV. So we see that as an opportunity and I think that’s different to the terrestrials who say ‘Let’s hold that back, this is a threat that’s coming and what protections can we have? Can we legislate to stop this happening?’ That’s the difference between the two sectors,” he says.
“Of course there is a threat to your base case. But why can’t we be in there as one of the providers? Why can’t Foxtel be the prism on which we offer that whole experience?
“I think the hurdle will be removed once the NBN is rolled out because they will be desperate to utilise and maximize that service and they will be looking for people to hook into it and provide services on the back of the NBN.
“I think it’s inevitable and I think people have underestimated totally what the NBN will do to transform Australia and multimedia more broadly.”
As an independent chair for ASTRA, Bracks clearly enjoys the chance to provide some direction to the STV sector. So is it a role he intends to continue with?
“I think for a little while longer, yes. I’m enjoying it. A couple more years would be good.”
Finally, I can’t help but ask for his tips for Emmy winners.
What’s his pick for Best Drama next Monday: Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland or Mad Men?
“Breaking Bad is exceptional. It can be irritating after a while but it’s exceptional. I’d have to say Mad Men. I know it’s not HBO but it’s still very, very good. The authenticity of that set just immerses you back into that era. It’s beautifully done.
And Comedy: The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls, Modern Family, 30 Rock or Veep?
He nearly tips Modern Family, but then…
“I don’t know all of those. I saw a bit of Girls. I’ll pick Veep because it is funny, and she’s a good character, particularly in her private office.”
It must be a political thing.