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We need to talk about the proposed Media Reform package

OpinionSteve Molk

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I have many feelings about the new Media Reform package that is being proposed in addition to the one STILL sitting, waiting for the Senate to pick it up again after it got left behind before the last Federal election.

One thing it *will not* guarantee is further investment in Aussie content.

If anything, it's a stay of execution for Ten. However if passed it will allow for the (long awaited) complete takeover of Ten by News Corp, along with the much discussed marriage between Nine and Southern Cross Austereo.

Is that what's best for the Australian people for whom these laws were written to protect?

Pending the Senate's approval of the package(s), Fox10 News/retransmitted Sky News for FTA isn't that far away. In Ten's current predicament there's talk that Sky News will deliver Ten's News product anyway should they look to cut the entire division as a cost saving mechanism.

Interestingly, the package also includes an altered anti-siphoning list. It should have been repealed also - FTA can't have it both ways. The list exists to keep specific sports events as "FTA first" so it remaining only benefits them, so it's win-win in the proposed legislation changes. Not that I'm advocating to allow Foxtel carte blanche to everything - the package allows FTA to become more profitable, easier, and at our expense.

So this is the sting: Licence fees are abolished (currently around $120m annually ) & some kind of "spectrum use" fee is implemented (projected at $40m annually). What a joke. FTA networks are getting our valuable radio spectrum cheaper than ever and expect us to swallow that they're gonna make more Australian content in return? SURE.

Look at the scoreboard - it will be more Aussie reality, and even then that's scraping the barrel. Don't expect further investment in real content.

What we can expect is further investment in other media, and for cross-media monopolies to form. Commercial FTA have shot themselves in the foot content-wise. I absolutely acknowledge that more and more people have chosen other methods of television viewing - streaming, catch up, etc - and that has shrunk traditional linear broadcast audiences. The way commercial FTA networks treat those remaining is downright appalling, with 7:30pm pre-recorded reality programs consistently running late, shows bounced around all over the schedule, and other shows dumped at will mid-season.

We used to have to just deal with it before, but now we have a choice and everyone seems to be exercising it with a vengeance.

While local content points are due to increase from 720/6 weeks to 900 it's pretty easily skirted/ignored. What are they really offering? Really? What was the last series longer than 4 episodes you watched broadcast at the original time it was scheduled that you stuck with to the end?

Fair enough the 75% reach rule needed work. Repealing? Well, we are in a time of blanket legislation "solving" everything. I wonder if regional viewers - represented by cross-bench senators - really understand what these changes mean for them? Bet not.

There is the acknowledgment in the proposed package to alter how much betting ad content we see on FTA, with significant changes on when it's seen specifically when coupled with sports broadcasting. This is a great start but, again, ultimately doesn't go far enough.

The clock is currently at 4 minutes to midnight for Ten. This legislation passing helps them but only momentarily. A News Corp takeover is the only thing that saves Ten now. Makes good business sense to make it the FTA arm of Foxtel too. A content funnel for the programming they already make/own and it can be delivered as 'second run' content with little extra cost if negotiated ahead of time.

It means that some of the hefty output deals Ten are committed to either get picked up by Foxtel or dumped. That'll save HEAPS. Ten's CBS output deal right now reportedly costs more annually than the company is WORTH. Reportedly $120m v $85m as at stock exchange close of business last Friday. Sucks to be Ten.

Nine and Seven will plug on for some time on this, making hay. In 5 years time they'll be looking for more relief from "spectrum fees".

All this while the Fed Govt continue to gut ABC & SBS funding - the only two FTA networks to be *really* investing in drama/comedy/other content. Funnily enough meeting their respective charters in doing so.

So you tell me - in whose best interest is this Media Reform package? The Australian people, or media magnates with billions looking to swoop in and clean up?


Want more info? You can read it from the horse's mouth here, and excellent analysis by Mumbrella here.