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The fight over Australian smart TV's gets angry
I begin the week fascinated by this story of in-fighting within the Australian TV industry over a proposal from Free TV Australia (a lobby group for the commercial broadcast TV networks) who are trying to force their not-hugely-compelling apps to have prominence on Australian viewers smart TVs.
A report from Calum Jaspan in the Nine Newspapers today focused on the lawyers getting involved. It seems Free TV Australia isn’t too happy about a campaign being waged by pay TV lobby group ASTRA (which is really just The Foxtel Group and a handful of Foxtel’s content suppliers and technology partners):
As the legislation expected to be introduced to parliament this month, Free TV Australia, the lobby group for commercial networks Nine, Ten and Seven, has sent a legal notice to Foxtel CEO and chair of ASTRA Patrick Delany demanding action over an advertising campaign run by ASTRA, alleging it misleads Australians.
The campaign led to internal fallout:
Apart from the legal stoush with Free TV, ASTRA’s campaign has also led to tensions inside the group. Paramount, the international owner of Network 10 and streaming service Paramount+, has withdrawn its membership from ASTRA just days after its ad was released and has instead put its support behind Free TV.
ASTRA’s campaign is themed around its message: “Warning: Now the government wants to control your TV”. Meanwhile the message from Free TV Australia: “Don’t let big tech take your free away”.
The idea that it is the price point and not that the FTA broadcasters are programming their apps with stripped, tired reality shows (which works for a broadcast linear schedule and not so-much on-demand viewing) and cheap library content, is laughable to me. Australian audiences are flocking to the likes of Netflix because they have been treated badly for years by broadcasters and aren’t being serviced very well by the commercial broadcasters online offer. Big tech are offering an actual alternative.
Of course, ASTRA/Foxtel’s interest in this extends beyond trying to ensure they can retain prominence on connected devices and Smart TVs for years to come. It also has its own hardware set for release. The upcoming “Hubbl” is a range of connected TV devices (think of them as being like an Apple TV or Google Chromecast, but operated by Foxtel) and Smart TVs. Obviously, Foxtel would rather that its digital products be seen front and center on the new devices and not its competitors.
And frankly, that is fair enough. If a user wants to buy into a Foxtel experience, then they should be able to get that experience. That customer isn’t buying into a Foxtel platform to have it dominated by services offering little more than Masterchef and Big Brother.
I’ve mentioned this in the newsletter before. My own position then as it is now is that as long as Australians aren’t locked into these networks having their apps locked as the first apps on their screen and this only impacts app store placements, I’m not going to be wildly angry. But do Australian broadcasters deserve this? Heavens no.
It’s a bit rich that these networks (which no longer have obligations around paying license fees and broadcasting children’s content, and produce almost zero local scripted dramas or comedies) still see themselves as worthy of such a privileged position.
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That’s the newsletter for today. More tomorrow.