Australia’s media ownership laws have long been contentious, placing barriers on cross ownership of media and restricting (for better or worse, depending on your point of view) the reach that media companies can have across Australia’s population. It’s long been touted that these restrictions become meaningless in a broadband age, where a TV station for instance can effectively send content to anyone with a broadband connection, regardless of whether they live within its broadcasting footprint.
Now it seems that government is realising this as well, and signalling a significant shift in media ownership policy that would eliminate some of these restrictions. Last week Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy told The Sydney Morning Herald that the law restricting network coverage to 75 percent of the population in particular was unlikely to survive. You can read the rest of that story by clicking here.
The question of what happens to broadcast networks in a world where everyone is connected is one that many broadcasters are still grappling with (although not everyone will be connected, those that are unlikely to be appealing to advertisers). Having fast pipes into everyone’s homes opens the doors to thousands of new content providers that could otherwise have never afforded airtime on a network.
Networks will continue to hold onto broadcast rights that restrict release windows for programming until after they have aired, but these barriers are under pressure from piracy, and the Movie of the Week on commercial networks has already died at the hands of cable television, DVD sales and piracy.
Increasingly television networks will turn to those assets that they directly control – the series that they create themselves, and whatever rights deals they have signed to major sports events. The current situation of a sports organisation selling separate television and web rights will disappear.
Networks have also traditionally been responsible for publicising and building audiences for programs, and this role may well continue. But the idea of scheduled programming will start to fall away – anyone who owns a personal video recorder probably already waits until 15 minutes into a program to watch it so they can fast-forward the ads. The idea of scheduling will become irrelevant for everything except for live events and perhaps for those times when we are too lazy to decide what we watch for ourselves.
Maybe broadcasters will eventually become more like content houses, providing access to libraries of content rather and live events, with a streaming channel or two for good measure?