News Corp-controlled pay-TV company Foxtel is seeking legislation to make global streaming companies meet the same controls it faces as a broadcaster.
At a Senate estimates meeting in Canberra yesterday, group chief executive Patrick Delany said “massive shifts” in competition created a need for regulation to ensure Australia’s TV market could remain competitive, blaming “unregulated global streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+”.
He told the hearing the current regulatory environment was not sustainable for Foxtel. “That is not good for any Australian who believes in the importance of local media companies,” he said.
News Corp (65 per cent) owns Foxtel Group in partnership with local telco Telstra. Last year it was reported that an overseas player had sought to buy a major share in Foxtel and pay off much of its then-substantial debt. The bid was rebuffed and News – having refinanced the debt – has since benefitted from a pandemic boom in demand for streaming services. It has also cut costs and launched its own Kayo Sports and Binge services.
At the Senate hearing yesterday, Delany (pictured) said Foxtel has about four million subscribers paying for set-top box and streaming options, which now make up nearly half of its customer base.
Delany pointed to the “handful of local players” operating in a very crowded global marketplace, and suggested reforms to broadcasting legislation should halve the new eligible drama obligation for Foxtel to five per cent. “We would like to have the flexibility to spend the money as we think in this fast-changing market – our subscribers would appreciate the content, and secondly to get some flexibility our competitors have and we don’t,” he said.
Free-to-air services operated differently, working to a quota system and unaffected by the law changes. Proposed legislative changes to reduce Foxtel’s obligation to spending on drama content would not mean Australians would see less local TV content, he said, but would provide “commercial flexibility to invest in genres and formats that respond to viewers’ tastes”.