Behind-the-scenes lobbying of the Federal Opposition by the likes of Foxtel in an effort to have the 250 million reduction in licence fees for free-to-air TV stations blocked could result in a toughening of the legislation to include a set level of local content.Late on Friday the Opposition warned free-to-air television networks it intends to block the proposed $250 million handout because it doesn’t believe the government has adequately explained why it’s needed.
Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey gave the bad news to Seven Network chief executive David Leckie on Friday. Afterwards, Hockey is understood to have met representatives from the pay-TV industry to hear their concerns.
Pay-TV believes too many government decisions, including the $250 million fee reduction, are skewed in favour of free-to-air.
Insiders say Foxtel is “fuming” and is seeking the Rudd Government to consider making changes to the laws that protect big-ticket sporting events for free-to-air coverage in a bid to drive the take-up of free-to-air digital channels if the free-to-air TV stations are to be given a handout, which many say will simply “fall to the bottom line”.
For several months, Foxtel CEO Kim Williams has lobbied the Federal Government to change the anti-siphoning list to allow more sporting content to be shown on Foxtel live. He wants to be able to compete with the free-to-air TV stations for the rights to leading sporting events. This in turn will allow Foxtel to charge for the event instead of the content being shown for free on free-to-air TV.
Currently changes are being considered by the country’s Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who is also being questioned about his close relationships with media proprietors.
On the day that the $250 million dollar license package was announced, he was playing golf with James Packer. Some weeks earlier he had accepted free ski tickets after meeting up with Seven Media boss Kerry Stokes at Beaver Creek in the US snowfields.
Free-to-air networks have rejected Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s claim they are in “terminal, long-term structural decline”, after the federal government decided to cut $250 million from TV network licence fees.
Senator Conroy suggested the licence fee cut was some kind of bailout of the Seven, Nine and Ten networks when he told ABC TV’s Insiders program there was a “long-term decline in the fortunes of the business models of commercial TV”.
He said Internet TV (which will not be subject to the regulations on a traditional broadcaster) would provide hundreds of channels and this would apply pressure to free-to-air and subscription networks. “There is an acknowledged worldwide shift taking place,” he said.