Sunday, April 14, 2024

ABC MD Proposes Changes to Prominence and Anti-Siphoning Bill

In a statement to an Australian Senate hearing on Communications Legislation Amendments to include Prominence and updated Anti-siphoning rules, ABC Managing Director, David Anderson, has identified what he calls weaknesses in the proposed bill.

Testifying before the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications hearing on Communications Legislation Amendment (Prominence and Anti-siphoning) Bill 2023, Anderson stated, “The current Bill is on the whole good, but we believe it could be significantly improved by doing two simple things.

“First, the Bill should be amended to bring forward the commencement of the new prominence requirements. Currently, they will not take effect until 18 months after Royal Assent and will only apply to TVs sold after that date. It is therefore possible that consumers won’t benefit from these reforms until late next year or even 2026.

“In the meantime, Australians will keep buying new TVs, and (Australian) BVOD services will become invisible in more and more households.”

According to the ABC MD, the Bill’s second weakness is it does not allow the Minister to include search and recommendations in the minimum prominence requirements.

“There is a vast array of programs available to Australians and search and recommendations are already an important part of the way they discover things to watch,” he said. “These features will only become more important in the future. ABC programs are easy to find using search on some smart TVs, but nowhere to be found on others.

“For example, on some TVs, searching for ‘Bluey’ won’t take you to ABC iview, where Australian families can enjoy it for free. Instead, it will take you to a paid service.

“If we want Australians to be able to find Australian content, including local news and children’s programs, ensuring search and recommendations are part of the prominence framework is vital. This is also necessary to future-proof the framework. Smart TVs interfaces are continuing to evolve.”

Anderson referenced data which showed Australia had “passed a tipping point” in 2022 where more viewers were watching video-on-demand or VOD services than broadcast TV.

“All Australian free-to-air broadcasters have invested heavily in their own Broadcast Video-on-Demand or BVOD services,” he said. “In the ABC’s case, we have the leading BVOD app – ABC iview.

“Smart TVs have become the dominant way in which Australians view VOD services, which means that manufacturers have become a new type of gatekeeper. However in many cases, manufacturers are preferencing global streaming giants or their own services over Australian free-to-air services.

“As research from RMIT shows, for a significant number of Australians, if they can’t see us on their smart-TV home screen, we’re just not there.

“In 2021, when one of the major manufacturers stopped pre-installing ABC iview, we asked how much it would cost to be put back in their default app configuration. We were told it would cost us $250,000. That was not the first time that had happened.

“The prominence framework provided by this Bill aims to ensure that Australians can find broadcasters’ services on televisions. This is vitally important to our ability to perform our public service mission.”

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