Conroy introduces quotas on digital channels, declares no fourth free-to-air network

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Image: espensorvik/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy has announced that first part of implementing the Convergence Review. This will include the introduction of Australian content quotas on digital channels, and has declared that there will no fourth free-to-air network on the so-called “sixth channel”.

Digital channels by Seven, Nine and Ten must broadcast 730 hours of Australian content in 2013; before increasing to 1095 hours in 2014 and 1460 hours in 2015. In essence, this means that commercial broadcasters must have two hours of Australian content every day in 2013; and by the end of 2015, four hours of Australian content every day.

In order to increase the hours of Australian drama on digital channels, one hour of first-run Australian drama will count as two hours instead of one. While it may sound foreign to have first-run drama on a digital channel (the only one, currently, is Neighbours on ELEVEN); in the UK, there are many shows that have premiered on a digital channel. Skins and Misfits, for example, are produced by E4 – a digital channel in the UK.

The primary channels will maintain the 55 percent quota, but there will be greater flexibility on “sub-quotas” like drama and news and current affairs; and get a reduction in licensing fees, now being set to a maximum of 4.5 percent of revenue.

In line with the Convergence Review, the Government will also remove the “75 percent reach rule”, which restricted a person controlling a network to reach an audience of greater than 75 percent of the entire population of Australia. The rule was deemed ineffective by the Convergence Review due to the internet making national media outlets accessible to the whole country that would allow a reach beyond 75 percent of the country.

In addition, Senator Conroy has outright said that there will no fourth free-to-air network – which, if it was created, would use the ‘sixth channel’. This is in line with the Convergence Review, which concluded “that the sixth multiplex should not be allocated to create a full fourth commercial television network operated by a single enterprise.”

“Online technologies like IPTV are giving people new ways to access content. The low barriers to entry for these online content services and the scope for future innovation mean that in the long term, these online platforms are likely to be a real alternative to traditional terrestrial television. The rollout of the NBN will further facilitate this,” Senator Conroy said in a statement.

However, that said, the Government has not made it clear what it will use the spectrum for, except allowing the existing community broadcasters use the spectrum to broadcast in digital.

“Potential uses of the sixth channel will be considered in the longer term, in the light of the Australian Communication and Media Authority’s assessment of future broadcasting technologies,” Conory added.

“In the meantime, the Government will allow community television to use spectrum intended for the sixth channel until at least 31 December 2014. The Government remains committed to ensuring community television has a permanent spectrum allocation for digital broadcasting.”

The Convergence Review recommends that the they “[allocate] individual channel capacity to a range of providers” as it would “maximise diversity”. This would mean that community broadcasters will still maintain a place; but also would allow a variety of channels to be created – given that they have a viable business model and do not replicate the services of the big three networks.

It also recommended that the existing broadcasters should not gain access to the sixth channel; and that it should use the MPEG-4 format as it is “more efficient”. We did a piece about the so-called “sixth channel” and what the Convergence Review wanted it to be used when it was released back in April.

If you want a better summary of the Convergence Review – go over and check Media Watch’s analysis of the entire document.

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