Free to Air networks and Pay TV have welcomed a media reform package announced this morning by Mitch Fifield, Minister for Communications.
The wide-ranging changes cover Licence Fees, Gambling Ads, Reach Rule, ‘2 out of 3’ Rule, Anti-Siphoning List, Content & Children’s TV Review, and Women’s & Niche Sport.
Mitch Fifield release:
The Turnbull Government has announced a comprehensive package of reforms that will improve the sustainability of Australia’s free-to-air broadcasting sector, support the creation of high quality Australian content and modernise broadcasting and content regulation. The package also includes a community dividend in the form of further restrictions on gambling advertising. The measures include:
Abolishing broadcasting licence fees and datacasting charges.
Applying a fee for the spectrum that broadcasters use at a level more reflective of the current media landscape.
Further restrictions on gambling advertising in live sporting events across all platforms.
Amending the anti-siphoning scheme and list.
Repealing the two out of three and 75% audience reach media ownership rules.
A broad ranging and comprehensive review of Australian and children’s content.
Funding to support the broadcasting of women’s and niche sports
The package provides significant ongoing financial relief, acknowledging that Australia’s broadcasters are facing an increasingly competitive commercial environment, with intense competition for audiences and advertising revenue from other media companies, including global online and on-demand operators.
The package will abolish free-to-air broadcasting annual licence fees currently estimated to raise around $130 million on television and radio to improve the ability of broadcasters to operate on a level playing field with other platforms. Licence fees, which are revenue based, were introduced when broadcasters could generate significant profits due to their exclusive access to mass audiences. In today’s media environment, licence fees are a relic of a bygone age of regulation.
Under the reforms, broadcasters will pay new annual spectrum fees estimated to raise around $40 million, a level that is more reflective of the current media landscape. The financial relief provided by the package gives commercial broadcasters the flexibility to grow and adapt in the changing media landscape, invest in their businesses and in Australian content, and better compete with online providers.
The package also includes a community dividend in the form of further restrictions on gambling advertising during live sports programs. The Government will work with industry to introduce new restrictions on gambling advertisements during live sports broadcasts shown on commercial television, commercial radio, subscription television, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and online platforms. The new restriction will ban gambling advertisements from five minutes before the commencement of play until five minutes after the conclusion of play or 8:30pm, whichever comes sooner. This will provide a clear and practical zone for families and children to watch live sports. Existing exemptions for advertising that covers the racing industry and lotteries will remain.
The reform package will also amend Australia’s anti-siphoning regime to reduce the size of the list and update other parts of the scheme, whilst ensuring that iconic sporting events of national significance are retained.
This year, the Department of Communications and the Arts, Screen Australia and the ACMA will undertake a review of Australian and children’s screen content. The review will identify sustainable policies to ensure the ongoing availability of Australian and children’s content to domestic and international audiences, regardless of platform.
The Government will provide funding of $30 million over four years to subscription television to maintain and increase coverage of women’s sports, niche sports and high participation sports that are less sustainable to broadcast. Increased coverage of these sports will assist them to build their profile, boost participation and improve sponsorship opportunities.
The Government will progress its Broadcast and Content Reform Package via an integrated legislative package which will include the Government’s media ownership reforms. Together this package represents a comprehensive package of media reforms. It represents a major opportunity for government, industry and the Parliament to strengthen and benefit this important industry, ensure ongoing investment in Australian content and support for the highly skilled jobs this sector provides.
The reforms are vital to the long term viability of the sector, which provides access to high quality Australian content that contributes to, and reflects, Australian cultural life.
Free TV statement:
Free TV Australia today welcomed the Government’s comprehensive Broadcast and Content Reform Package.
“This package is crucial for Australian jobs and our ability to continue creating great local programming that is watched by millions of Australians every day. I congratulate the Government and Minister Fifield,” Free TV Chairman, Mr Harold Mitchell AC said today.
“Broadcasters must be able to effectively compete with the giant multinational media companies taking advertising dollars out of Australia. Our industry supports more than 15,000 jobs and invests $1.5 billion each year in Australian content,” Mr Mitchell said.
The Government’s Broadcast and Content Reform Package abolishes the outdated licence fee and adopts a spectrum charge.
“Until today, Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters had been paying the highest licence fees in the world,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Repealing the 75% audience reach and cross media ownership rules is vital for Australian media companies to be able to compete in our modern media environment and we urge the Senate to support the legislation already in Parliament,” Mr Mitchell said.
As part of this package, broadcasters are committed to addressing community concerns regarding frequency of gambling advertising in live sport during children’s viewing hours. The industry will move to amend the Commercial Television Code of Practice to ban gambling ads in live sport before 8.30pm, and during a five minute buffer before and after the event.
“We welcome the Government’s recognition that any new restrictions must apply across all media platforms, including online, in order to be effective,” Mr Mitchell said.
The Government package also comprehensively addresses calls from the subscription television sector to revise the anti-siphoning list with the removal of several major events and the extension of the automatic delisting period to 26 weeks.
“The anti-siphoning list remains crucial for ensuring Australians can enjoy major sporting events for free,” Mr Mitchell said.
“A review of the Australian content rules is long overdue and we welcome the Government’s decision to conduct a root and branch review of the content ecosystem,” Mr Mitchell said.
Nine today welcomed the package of media reform announced by the Federal Government.
Hugh Marks, Nine CEO, said: “Nine believes this total package tackles the various elements of media reform required for the industry to compete with global players in a rapidly changing media environment. We would encourage the parliament to pass all elements in their entirety.
“The move from licence fees to a spectrum use-based fee addresses the onerous and prohibitive charges we have been facing, at a time when our business is competing with global giants who have no such restrictions in our market.
“This decisive package is welcomed by Nine and we thank the Government for the foresight it shows in providing a more level playing field while removing outdated ownership rules to encourage innovation and investment in local content by us.”
Nine recognises the need for an overall reform to benefit all players in the market, and as such accepts the need for changes to the anti-siphoning list as part of the broader process, but welcomes the guarantees that Australians will continue to get their favourite sports including NRL, AFL and cricket live and free.
“Community calls for reform to gambling advertising is something we are very aware of and while it will cause our business a loss of revenue we will work with our partners to ensure compliance.
“Nine has always maintained that licence fees are the most important reform for our industry. Now that this is being addressed it is sensible to also address the outdated media ownership rules. The two-out-of-three ownership rule and 75 per cent reach rule are redundant and have been superseded by agreements such as Nine delivering regional news through our partner Southern Cross Austereo, and technology advances including streaming services such as 9Now.”
Seven West Media:
Seven West Media has welcomed the Government’s package of media law changes announced earlier today by Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield.
Seven West Media Chairman Kerry Stokes AC said: “I endorse the complete legislation package proposed by the Government, including licence fee reductions, media ownership changes, gambling advertising restrictions, anti- siphoning and the spectrum charge. It will give us a real opportunity to compete in the new media environment.
I am pleased that the Turnbull Government is backing the Australian media industry through these reforms.”
Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner said: “Seven has maintained a consistent position since 2013 on the issue of media ownership changes. We have called for a broad reform package that will truly empower free-to-air broadcasters to meet the increasing pace of change that we are facing. We believe that the package announced by the Government today will go a long way to achieving that objective.
“In particular, we welcome the Government’s move to reduce television licence fees, which have been the single biggest regulatory impediment facing this industry for some time. Removing these outdated fees will allow us to invest in more and better local content and to transform our businesses for the future and we thank the Turnbull Government for taking this initiative.
“We support the proposed changes to the media ownership rules as part of the Government’s comprehensive package. We recognise that the changes we are witnessing in media consumption and delivery are challenging the traditional sector-based regulations that are currently in place and we call on the Senate to pass the bills currently before the Parliament,” Mr Worner said.
Seven also indicated its commitment to implement the package of gambling advertising restrictions announced by the Government, which will see gambling ads prohibited in live sport shown before 8.30pm including a 5 minute buffer before and after the event.
“The anti-siphoning list is still the best way to ensure that Australia’s iconic sporting events remain available live and free to all Australians. I am very pleased that significant events such as the AFL, Australian Open Tennis, Olympics and Commonwealth Games will remain on the list,” said Mr Worner.
“We look forward to working with the Government to deliver all the elements of the package announced today.”
Screen Producers Australia:
Our CEO, Matthew Deaner, today welcomed the Government’s announcement of a review of Australian and children’s content as well as the announcement of reforms to support Australian broadcasters.
“I welcome the announcement of a review of Australian and children’s content by the Department of Communications and the Arts, Screen Australia and the ACMA. In February, Minister Fifield said he wants to see more Australian content on Australian screens and this is an obvious starting point for the review.”
“However, in a separate inquiry into the industry undertaken by the House Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts, the commercial television broadcasters have submitted that they want their obligations to Australian children’s content abolished. This is a major concern. As an industry, we will resist this proposal while working constructively to develop options to strengthen this important part of the industry.”
“In extending restrictions on gambling advertising across all platforms, including online, the Government demonstrates a commendable willingness to regulate new platforms. In undertaking the review into Australian and children’s content, the Government must demonstrate a similar willingness and identify platform-agnostic options for content regulation. All platforms, including commercial, public and subscription broadcasters as well as international SVOD services, must come within a regulatory environment that includes strong commitments to contribute to Australia’s screen culture.”
“Investment by commercial television broadcasters has been, and will continue to be, critical to the development and success of the independent production sector. In transitioning from broadcast licence fees to a spectrum charge, the Government has provided relief at one end of the value chain. This is appropriate. However, the entire value chain for Australian content creation and delivery is under pressure. I note that the Government has again missed an opportunity to tie relief for the commercial television broadcasters to commitments to independent production in terms of hours, expenditure, promotion and access. I expect the content review will examine these issues.”
“I look forward to the content review and the detail of the legislative package.”
ASTRA has welcomed a holistic media reform package announced by the Government over the weekend. The changes are a modest but welcome first step in the reform process, and will be supported by subscription television if adopted as a comprehensive package.
The media overhaul will include minor modernisation of the sports anti-siphoning scheme, which protects the opportunity for free-to-air television to bid unchallenged for rights to broadcast more than 1300 events.
Though these changes are a modest first step, they are welcome and timely given how profoundly the environment has changed since anti-siphoning was introduced in the early 1990s, when the only way to watch sport was on television and relatively few Australians paid for media services.