Government probes companies’ power on TV apps

Feb 23, 2024 at 01:25 pm by admin

Tech companies’ market power, “unilaterally inserting themselves” between Australians and free news and other content, has come under scrutiny during a Senate committee hearing.

Leaders of the free-to-air TV industry, lining up at the environment and communications legislation committee hearings, have disclosed they were pressured by big tech platforms to pay placement fees and share revenue.

Networks – including the ABC, SBS, Seven, Nine, and Network 10 – are giving evidence, among them former Fairfax chief Greg Hywood, now chairman of Free TV.


The committee is also looking at the issue of ‘anti-siphoning’ laws – which give FTA broadcasters a first chance to gain broadcast rights, ahead of subscription TV – and whether they should be strengthened to protect local content makers.

Both SBS and national broadcaster the ABC reported pressure. SBS managing director James Taylor said the network had been approached by the maker of “the best-selling connected TV” asking for a 15 per cent revenue share and a placement fee, failing which SBS would be removed from the “app launcher” on the TV homepage for that brand.

Five years later, in August 2023, another platform operator said that “unless SBS agreed to pay them 30 per cent of the revenue we derived from being on their platform, they would exclude us entirely”.

While he did not name the company, he said its market capitalisation was more USD$1.7 trillion (A$2.59 trillion).

“It is frankly scandalous that these massive global tech firms can unilaterally insert themselves as gatekeepers between Australians and their free Australian content – trusted news and information services that have been intentionally developed and underpinned by decades of public policy,” he said.

ABC managing director David Anderson said the broadcaster had also received requests for large payments. “On principle, we haven’t paid,” he said.

From the commercial TV sector, Seven chief executive James Warburton said the network had paid for locations in the past, but were frequently outbid by global players for top spots. “On average the network pays around 10-20 per cent to be on the apps,” he said, describing TV as “an app store” in which Seven could not compete with global players.

Nine chief executive Mike Sneesby said that not having prominence on apps had cost “a considerable amount of our audience” over time.

Later today Dr Ramon Lobato of RMIT university said that most users didn’t customise screens or know how to.

Swinburne university lecturer Dr Jessica Balanzategui (pictured) told the committee children tended to watch streaming content on TVs – rather than other devices – and didn’t know what the origin of content was. Australian children’s series Bluey was among favourite content which got a mention…. as did inappropriate content on YouTube’s main platform.

One question was where Bluey appeared on menus, and whether it mattered whether a subscription service was prominent, when taxpayers had already paid for ts production.

Free TV’s Bridget Fair argued that legislation shouldn’t differentiate between people who are watching the same content online from those using an aerial on the roof. For Foxtel however, Patrick Delany admitted to a “somewhat nuanced’ approach.

On behalf of what he described as an Australian company (in fact two-thirds American owned) he asserted that viewers “don’t care whether it’s free or paid, streamed or linear”, but expected to see all the options.

And was it fair that both Nine (Stan) and Ten (Paramount) had associated SVOD companies?

Questioned by chair Karen Grogan (ALP), Free TV’s Stephen Cleary also explained the realities of manufacturers and their platform partners, with Warburton commenting, “We’re the most regulated industry – we’re not asking for a free ride, we’re just trying to compete.”

It was also an opportunity for Delany to spruik its new streaming platform Hubbl, although no-one else – Grogan included – had seen it. A curious statement – in the context of senator David Pocock’s claim that only half of the ACT population had access to NBN – was the Delany corporate belief that “if you can get broadband, you must be able to afford it”.

And with that, the hearing was suspended. Check for future broadcasts here.

Pictured: Commercial TV chiefs giving evidence today

Sections: Digital business


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