Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Australia is a funny country sometimes. While the government tries to extend the private commerical sphere into it's health and education sectors as much as possible it seems utterly unwilling to contemplate that it's media sector could do with some good old fashioned competition as well. Yesterday, Helen Coonan announced the Government's proposed changes to media laws. If you are Rupert Murdoch or James Packer, you'll be smiling today as the net has been lifted on you increasing your domination of the country's media outlets. If you are a consumer (yes, they do exist in Australia apparently) then you've got at least another decade of overpriced Pay-TV, lack of digital services and shocking lack of choice to come. Hurrah!

The proposed regulations will prevent commercial channels (7,9,10) from multi-channeling thus killing off in one foul swoop any chance of any meaningful competition to Foxtel (which by the way is now charging over $70 a month for it's 'big' value package.) Don't you remember in the heady days of the Eighties when governments all over the world were telling us that it was in our interests that the utilty companies were sold off so that competition could start and prices would be lower. They loved that doctrine when it meant selling off national assets to their mates for the price of a pint of beer but they don't seem to like applying such principles to sectors that their mates already own.

The UK has Freeview which for free provides it's viewers with 40 odd channels including additional channels from the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. This has stimulated growth in the UK and BSkyB has responded with more competitive deals and more innovative products. See John - captialism can work! Digital uptake in the UK has now easily surpassed the 50% mark. Don't expect that to happen anytime soon down under where we'll still be watcing analogue TV when man finally lands on Mars.

Australia has 1000 sporting events on it's anti-siphoning list. I couldn't name 1000 sporting events - could you?!?!!? I mean does this include the annual Crab racing event in Wagga Wagga?? Well thank god though eh? I mean who can possibly beat Channel 9's tremendous coverage of Wimbledon? As if we need to see prime time highlights of a tournament that is being played as we are asleep dreaming of Anna Kournakovia! Bugger that, I'd rather get up at 4am in the morning to try and catch a glimpse of the world's blue ribbon tennis event. Same for the Winter Olympics, I'm forever grateful to Channel 7 for NOT bringing me live coverage of the event and giving the presenting role to some thick blonde bimbo from that challenging travel program, The Great Outdoors. Apparently, the events on the list are now going to be 'use it or lose it events' which means that if the commerical channels do not broadcast at least half of any any one event then Pay TV can bid to broadcast them. I think such a rule should be applied retrospectively and the only sport left on Free TV should be that strange one with the funny shaped ball and the men in tight shorts and sleeveless tops.

I could go on but I won't, it was all too predictable anyway. The icing on the cake has to be that the Government is going to require broadcasters over IPTV to require a license. This means that Australia is up there with the likes of China in it's desire to regulate the media.

P'ah! I can tell you to see that there is no end in sight to the long, dark tunnel that is Australian television. When is the BBC launching it's on demand player again?

No comments: