Big media's NBN convergence challenge


Free TV AustraliaThe National Broadband Network (NBN) is set to level the media's playing field, and that's good and bad. 

We'll all have the ability to become broadcasters, with no need for licences and expensive infrastructure. Innovations such as YouTube have already given us a taste of that, and how 'citizen' media can contribute to our flourishing as human beings and communities. 

But because our media world will be flooded with content from overseas, our distinctive Australian culture will be threatened. This has occurred with state and regional cultures in recent decades, as nationally networked content has become the norm. State based football now receives little media coverage compared with the past. 

In the future we'll source the majority of our media content from the NBN rather than broadcast towers and newspaper vendors. The media industry as we know it will die if it fails in its various attempts to reinvent itself.

The end of big media businesses such as Seven, Nine, Ten and the newspapers would be bad for media proprietors such as Kerry Stokes and Rupert Murdoch, but not necessarily a great loss at all for the rest of us, given the NBN's empowerment of small media enterprises and the diversity that implies.  

However it also provides an uncertain future for the ABC and SBS, which exist largely to promote Australian culture and identity.

Earlier this year, ABC managing director Mark Scott sounded the alarm at a forum of commercial and public sector broadcasters:

'In the short term, in the next couple of years it looks pretty good. People are still watching television ... But if you take a longer-term view, when the NBN is here and you are battling global content, where there's seamless distribution and endless content available, that's where you have got to be quite paranoid ... and you have to be positioning yourself quite aggressively now for the uncertainties of that world.'

The Federal Government's Convergence Review report released last week provides a blueprint for media policy in the NBN era. Its vision includes many radical changes including a 50 per cent increase in Australian content obligations for commercial free to air television operators. 

More compulsory locally-produced programming will diminish the currently healthy earnings of the television networks. But broadcasting a substantial amount of local content will provide them with a point of difference that will potentially cushion them against competition from foreign content providers.

Australian programs are costly to produce, but it has been demonstrated over the past two or more decades that Australians prefer local to foreign content. 

The commercial networks are demanding that Australian content rules should also apply to the ABC. This seems fair, although extending the requirement to SBS would be another matter.

The report of the Convergence Review is a document with many layers of complexity and simplistic responses to it can be misleading and meaningless. Nevertheless we could find that the increased Australian content it recommends could mutually benefit the TV networks and the Australian public. Australians will watch free to air television to the extent that it provides Australian content, and this will ensure the survival of Australian culture.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Convergence Review, NBN, Australian culture, Stokes, Murdoch, Mark Scott, commercial TV



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Existing comments

Buying a newspaper today is like chopping down a tree to read yesterday’s bad news! All the media is used to provide news, entertainment or sometimes education. I am sure that nobody is able to predict what is going to happen with various media models. If you travel, then a Kindle and a Tablet are often the only devices you need to get all the information, news and education. If you are at home, it is nice to sit down with a steaming hot strong coffee and watch a film on TV. I think Eureka Street is a good example where the media is going. Whilst it is easier to get content from overseas, people from overseas have it now also easier to get content from Australia. Is it really a bad thing if we cannot be kept isolated? Kerry Stokes and Rupert Murdoch are still doing well and entertainment remains big business. In South Australia the Government just donated close to 600Million Dollars to the AFL and Cricket Australia. Whilst entertainments (especially passive spectator sports) are ahead of education and health, then I think that Kerry Stokes and Rupert Murdoch will be kept out of the poorhouse for a few more years.
Beat Odermatt | 07 May 2012

The NBN will only move the choke point on media delivery back up the chain from the home to international links which are limited in capacity. So, there is time, yet, for re-thinking. But, Mark Scott is only looking at the disadvantages to the ABC. Increasing capacity will work both ways, to our benefit as well as our cost.
Peter Horan | 07 May 2012


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