Regional media players express concern over ABC regional digital push

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Regional media players have expressed their concerns over the federal government decision to fund the ABC to allow them to build more than 50 region-specific websites linked to its radio offerings, saying that it could potentially damage their business.

News Corporation and Fairfax Media, the two big players in the newspaper industry, have established their own regional websites – but their stories tend to be exactly the same content as on their newspapers, and are only updated once a week.

“You’re not dealing with markets that are massive or that have millions of dollars,” Warren Lee, chief executive of APN Online, said to The Australian. “The danger is that it sucks the oxygen out of the marketplace for private investors.”

Advertisers in regional markets have been developing for years, as they are able to get a market in regional areas as their audience is ignored on portals are made for metropolitan areas, like News.com.au – a hub for its metro papers; or portals dedicated for the entire country – like Yahoo!7 and nineMSN.

“National advertisers are buying an audience they can’t get anywhere else,” Lee continued.

Prime, a regional broadcaster, has been pushing more than 40 websites with the brand iPrime or iGWN that are dedicated to offering local information, user-generated content and entertainment for regional markets that they broadcast in.

The push by the government to fund such a project was to “create virtual town squares for communities” in regional Australia, according to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

The BBC had a similar idea, using 68 million pounds to build a network of more than 60 local news websites, but was scrapped after the damage it would have on the commercial media, with watchdog Ofcom found that it could cost their commercial rivals up to 4 percent of its annual income.

The ABC has already websites for its local radio stations, but these sites only have relevant local information, news stories provided by ABC News and podcasts of their shows broadcast on their radio station. This is expected to expand to generated content once the new National Broadband Network is turned on.