16 June 2009

Foxtel CEO calls for free to air TV extension in Australia

Jane Schulze in today's Australian reports

Pay-TV group Foxtel has joined the growing chorus of media companies seeking a comprehensive review of Australia's media and telecommunications regulation ahead of the $43 billion national broadband network rollout.

Speaking to the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday, Foxtel chief executive Kim Williams also said the federal government should allow a fourth digital-only free-to-air TV network as soon as possible.

"It should issue licences to new players to provide new networks, either terrestrially or via satellite. That will help to drive digital television take-up," Mr Williams said.

"Why shouldn't a company like Foxtel or others have the opportunity to offer a fourth free-to-air network or a fifth over satellite if we can make a business case work? Why shouldn't any other reputable and well-financed company be able to offer a fourth network terrestrially if it can make the business case work?"

IMO this is an excellent idea, not least because the boundaries between free to air and pay TV in Australia are artificial. In the UK there is a crossover or hybrid area where channels such as the local Sky News are available as free to air. In Australia the so-called "Freeview" has added some channels and quasi-channels but otherwise has done little to engage with the pay TV sector. (Of course, the reverse is also true).

While Foxtel could put a few rooms in its own house in order, eg by making Al - Jazeera TV available (not just as a counterweight to Fox News), it does otherwise provide a variety of programs some of which which deserve a wider audience. Sky News Australia reports on events in Canberra and Sydney in some depth (and occasionally runs an eye over happenings elsewhere) while the relatively new A-PAC channel has caught the ABC asleep at the wheel by providing live video coverage of federal parliament (check it out to see how rapidly each chamber empties after question time).

As the internet and other technology increasingly provide alternative means of viewing TV programs perhaps there's less need to bang on about this, but while my monitor is smaller than my TV screen it would be good to have the bigger, and broader, picture.

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