Labor is mounting a draconian push to regulate smart devices which will prevent Australians from seeing the most relevant content when they switch on their TV.
The ABC and SBS could soon be boosted ahead of many Australian commercial media outlets on smart TVs, including through manipulated search results for news stories, as the Labor party prepares to introduce “prominence” legislation.
Labor is mounting a draconian push to regulate devices in living rooms which will limit the freedom of Australians to see the most relevant content when they switch on their TV.
The move has been pushed by the FreeTV lobby group, together with the ABC and SBS, which wants manufacturers to pre-install all TV apps from their brands on home screens and offer their specific content first in search results and recommendations.
FreeTV’s expectations for how this legislation should work extends as far as people searching for news content through voice-activated TVs, with their submission into the proposed legislation demanding “if a Regulated Device is voice activated, when a consumer asks for “news”, the consumer must first be offered the Local TV Services that provide news content, with priority given to any such Local TV Services that the consumer has previously accessed”.
Labor’s Michelle Rowland is behind a radical bid to pass legislation which controls what you see on your TV.
This means that manufacturers of devices will be required to preference the ABC, SBS, and commercial outlets including Nine and Seven, over other commercial media outlets for news coverage regardless of popularity or relevance to what the viewer wants to watch.
Labor’s own proposal paper into the matter – titled Prominence Framework for Connected TV Devices – admits these laws will help free-to-air broadcasters gain an advantage in the streaming age.
A recent survey conducted by the ANU’s Social Research Centre on behalf of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts found that 66 per cent of respondents had an online subscription service last year, up from 62 per cent in 2021, and that free video streaming services were the second most popular platform.
This year’s Deloitte Media and Entertainment Consumer Insights 2023 report also found that Australian consumers were closely monitoring monthly costs, and had reduced monthly SVOD spending on average to $57, an 8 per cent year on year drop.
Labor’s Communication Minister Michelle Rowland is behind the radical push to legislate what Australians will see when they turn on their TVs.
With the way that people are watching TV changing, that is impacting how people shop for TVs in the first place. The ANU study found that most Australians considered internet connection the most important aspect when buying a new TV.
These changes in technology and consumption are presenting significant challenges for the operating models of free-to-air broadcasters who have struggled to keep ahead of the shifting demands of Australian viewers.
The industry has been disrupted by challengers like Netflix and Foxtel who have transformed their business models, from DVDs and subscription-TV respectively, to streaming. This new Australian government legislation aims to give traditional linear TV broadcasters who have failed to adapt a leg-up by forcing device manufacturers to preference their content over innovative new services that Australians prefer.
The Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA), whose members include Foxtel, BBC Worldwide Australia, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, ESPN, FOX Sports, NBCUniversal International Networks and Sky News Australia, sent a chilling warning to Australians today with full-page ads warning ‘Now the government wants to control your TV’.
The advertisement reads: “Don’t let the government tell you what to watch or limit your search results. You wouldn’t allow it on your phone. It’s your TV. It’s your living room. The voice should be yours”.
In a recent interview with Sky News, Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany described the proposed changes as a government takeover of the viewer’s remote.
“It is not right. The government needs to listen to everyday Australians. They own the TV, they’re passionate about it and they do not want the government telling them what to watch,” Mr Delany said.
“All of the people watching that have Foxtel – it really is a takeover of their remote… if you want to go into apps, all the Free TV apps would be listed first”.
In an interview with The Australian today, Mr Delany said many customers had a “rotational churn” of streaming services.
He explained that these viewers say they are unable to sign up to every streaming platform and must choose which ones they subscribe to.
While for the customers who can afford every streaming service, Mr Delany said there’s “a lot of friction going in and out of services to find your shows.”
Labor is expected to rush through the prominence legislation over the coming weeks.