Australian networks snub 'dud' reforms

Australia

The Australian government's attempt to revitalise digital television looks to be under threat after broadcasting companies failed to agree on a plan that is seen as a "digital dud".

According to a report in The Age newspaper, networks have told communications minister Helen Coonan that her proposals to make digital television more appealing to consumers are unworkable.

Australian viewers have so far shown almost no interest in digital TV—with take-up only a little above zero—and the country has already had to abandon one target for switchover of 2008 in favour for a later deadline of 2010-2012.

The government's reform package includes a variety of new services and the room to allow networks to broadcast on more than one channel —known as 'multi-channelling'—all in an effort to make digital television more attractive to the public.

However, The Age claims that several major commercial broadcasters have been unable to agree on the first bundle of changes, leading Australian prime minister John Howard to state that he is not prepared to spend government money on upgrading digital services without the media's collective endorsement.

The newspaper quotes an anonymous executive at pay-TV provider Telstra as saying: "Helen Coonan has run into the usual stonewalling from the usual suspects.

"The free-to-air broadcasters want to protect their oligopoly; they don't want any competition. And [pay-television company] Foxtel don't want anyone to have access to multi-channelling, which is too much like pay-TV, so that won't happen."

The paper's source adds: "Helen Coonan has little hope of getting agreement between the different players. This is the digital dud package."

This latest blow to the Australian administration's attempts at media reforms follows a call by News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch for planned changes to media ownership laws to be torn up unless they "make it open to everyone", being of equal benefit to all companies.

Lovelace Consulting  |  29.06.2006

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