Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters have welcomed a $100 million win from the Federal Government’s broader media reform package, which includes the slashing of free-to-air TV licence fees, trimming the anti-siphoning list for sporting events and tighter restrictions on gambling ads during live sports matches.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield announced the wider package on Saturday morning, including the dumping of the current licence fee regime in favour of a $40 million spectrum fee charged across free-to-air broadcasters, as revealed by The Australian Financial Review.
Gambling ads will be banned from many TV sports broadcasts, including the NRL. Photo: Scott Barbour
Across the metropolitan and regional broadcasters, licence fees were roughly $150 million in the 2016 financial year.
The package will also include the government’s current bill which is seeking to remove the “reach rule”, preventing networks from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the population, and the “two out of three rule”, preventing media companies from owning a TV network, radio station and a newspaper in the same market.
The gambling advertising restrictions will see all betting ads banned between the five minutes before a live sports broadcast and until five minutes after the final buzzer or 8.30pm, whichever comes first.
Existing exemptions for advertising that covers the racing industry and lotteries will remain.
Anti-gambling campaigner and Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon said the measure was a good first step but didn’t go far enough.
“It’s not the end of the story in terms of gambling reform,” he told AAP on Saturday.
“We need to ban all gambling ads during sports broadcasts, but at least we’ve made some progress.”
He said sports previews shows should also be monitored for their promotion of gambling odds.
Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters enthusiastically welcomed the new package.
“Nine believes this total package tackles the various elements of media reform required for the industry to compete with global players in a rapidly changing media environment,” Nine chief executive Hugh Marks said.
“We would encourage the parliament to pass all elements in their entirety.”
Ten chief executive Paul Anderson echoed those comments, calling the changes critical.
“Now that we have a holistic package, it is time for Parliament to get rid of these pre-internet rules to give Ten and other Australian companies a fair go against the foreign tech media giants whose dominance and influence is growing rapidly in Australia,” he said.
Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes also endorsed the new package.
“It will give us a real opportunity to compete in the new media environment. I am pleased that the Turnbull Government is backing the Australian media industry through these reforms.”
Seven chief executive Tim Worner singled out the licence fee cut as the most important part of the package.
“In particular, we welcome the Government’s move to reduce television licence fees, which have been the single biggest regulatory impediment facing this industry for some time,” he said.
Removing these outdated fees will allow us to invest in more and better local content and to transform our businesses for the future and we thank the Turnbull Government for taking this initiative.”
The Australian Subscription Television & Radio Association, representing pay TV, was more reserved in its praise, but said in a statement that it conditionally supported the package.
“The changes are a modest but welcome first step in the reform process, and will be supported by subscription television if adopted as a comprehensive package,” ASTRA CEO Andrew Maiden said.
“ASTRA is pleased Minister Fifield pursued broad rather than piecemeal reform, and involved the entire media industry in the development of a package that addresses the broad concerns of all participants.”