Australia proposes broadcast and content reform package

Australia’s Government has announced a comprehensive package of reforms that it says will improve the sustainability of Australia’s free-to-air broadcasting sector, protect children from exposure to gambling advertising and support the creation of high quality Australian content. Other elements of the package include adjustments to the ‘anti-siphoning’ regime, aimed at giving free-to-air broadcasters a chance to show major events, abolition of outdated media ownership rules and providing funding to support under-represented sports on pay-TV.

According to the Government, legislative reform is needed to ensure the ongoing viability of Australian broadcasters. The past decade has seen the growth of online service providers challenging the traditional business model of Australian broadcasters for audiences and advertising revenue. Australian audiences now have more viewing opportunities than ever, being able to select from multiple services including free-to-air television, pay-TV, catch up TV, streaming services, subscription video on demand and user generated video. This has led to a fragmentation of audiences the erosion of advertising revenue for commercial broadcasters as they compete with online content providers.

The Government has developed a reform package that it says acknowledges the growing commercial pressure on Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters and also their important role in providing Australian content that both informs and reflects Australian cultural life.

To assist broadcasters to compete in the modern media environment, the Government will abolish broadcasting licence fees and introduce a price for the use of broadcast spectrum that more accurately reflects its use. Spectrum is essential to a digitally networked economy and a major contributor to Australia’s economic and social wellbeing. It is critical infrastructure enabling production for industrial, commercial, educational and other social services. The move to a spectrum price for broadcasters recognises the value of this important resource.

The package also includes further restrictions on gambling advertising and promotions during live sports programmes to reduce the exposure of children to gambling. The new restrictions will prohibit all gambling promotions from five minutes before the scheduled start of play in all live sports broadcasts to five minutes after the conclusion of play or to 8:30 pm. Importantly, the restrictions will apply to commercial television, commercial radio, subscription television, the Special Broadcasting Service, online services, including ‘catch up’ services, and live online streaming that are aimed at Australian audiences.

The new restrictions will establish a clear and practical ‘safe zone’ on any platform for children watching or listening to sport, which will be straightforward for parents and carers to observe. The Government’s intention is that the reforms will be given effect via changes to the various broadcast industry Codes of Practice.

According to the Government, reducing gambling advertising in this way has widespread community support, based on concern that exposing children to gambling advertising (such as sports betting) could position gambling as a normal part of the sports viewing experience. The reforms will reduce the exposure of children to gambling advertising while ensuring that Australian broadcasters have continued access to an important revenue stream.

In a globally connected, on-demand world the Government says that it is vital that Australian stories are told and are heard by Australians, in particular its children, and across the world. Many of the current production and distribution incentives introduced to support this content were developed more than a decade ago and do not fully reflect changing consumption patterns, methods of delivery or business models.

As part of the package the Department of Communications and the Arts, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and Screen Australia will undertake a joint review of the support measures in place for producing and delivering Australian and children’s screen content, to determine if these remain fit for purpose in the new multi-platform environment that has emerged since these measures were established. A key objective of the review will be to ensure that Australia’s screen industry is positioned to continue to provide quality Australian and children’s content across the range of platforms and services now enjoyed by domestic audiences.

The reform package will also amend Australia’s anti-siphoning scheme to remove outdated and redundant provisions and streamline the anti-siphoning list. These changes will enable the scheme to operate more effectively in a digital media environment while ensuring that events of national and cultural significance continue to be available on free-to-air television.

The changes include removing the rule that prevents free-to-air broadcasters from televising events on their digital multichannels only. This rule was put in place prior to the widespread adoption of digital TV, when digital multichannels were not widely available to the community.

The reform package will also reduce the scope of the list to encourage increased competition between subscription broadcasters and free-to-air television for the rights to air programmes.

The package will also provide more opportunities for subscription broadcasters to acquire event rights by increasing the time out from broadcast that events will be removed from the list from 12 to 26 weeks.

The reform package will provide additional funding of A$30 million (€20m) over four years to subscription television to increase coverage of sports that receive low or no broadcast exposure. These include women’s sports, niche sports, and sports that command high levels of community involvement and participation.

The funding will enable the development of new relationships between sporting bodies and an established sports broadcaster, increasing the exposure of these sports to Australian audiences. This initiative will build on and harness subscription television’s strengths in sports broadcasting through its linear and on-demand subscription television services.

The Government says it is pursuing the most significant reforms to Australia’s media laws in a generation, supporting the viability of its local organisations as they face increasing global competition in a rapidly changing digital landscape.

The Government says that overall, the package will strengthen Australian broadcasters, enabling them to invest in their businesses and better compete with online content providers. The underlying objective of this integrated package is the need to ensure ongoing investment in, and access to, high quality Australian content and the support of Australia’s broadcasting sector that delivers it.

The Government intends to progress the Broadcast and Content Reform Package via an integrated legislative package. The Government thanks the broadcasting sectors for its constructive cooperation and assistance during the development of these reforms.

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