Free-to-air TV has already lost the war

By John Drinnan

John Fellet. Photo / Kenny Rodger
John Fellet. Photo / Kenny Rodger

Free television bosses are welcoming a study on barriers to Ultra-Fast Broadband as a chance to challenge the growing dominance of Sky TV.

But the study and any subsequent review will likely be distant cannon fire in a television war that free TV has already lost.

The war is not so much about protecting free TV but about ensuring there is free access to the new world of TV on the internet.

There is a moratorium on the Commerce Commission making recommendations on regulations until 2019 - the competition watchdog has already been sidelined.

So even if this study or a subsequent review pointed out content is a barrier to the uptake of UFB - or raised competition issues - the report would only be a discussion document.

It's not clear how telcos will react to the study.

In New Zealand's unique unregulated broadcasting market, Governments have been relaxed about Sky TV's hold on content.

The study looks at the gamut of demand-side issues and barriers for Ultra-Fast Broadband uptake. But in the context of broadcasting - and the emerging crisis facing the free TV sector - the biggest issue is content.

Free TV body Think said the study announced yesterday was "a good start" with broad terms of reference.

Think executive director Rick Friesen said unregulated a dominant content-holder like Sky could limit internet TV services on Ultra-Fast Broadband, restricting users to exclusive deals.

So, without regulation, companies like TVNZ and MediaWorks could be shut out from UFB, he said.

TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis said: "There needs to be a regulatory environment that encourages many players in the marketplace and competition to ensure consumers get value for money."

But Sky Television's chief executive John Fellet sums up the scepticism about the study. He wondered why the commission was going ahead with a study when the decision had already been made against regulation. Asked for his reaction to the study, he said if it sped up the arrival of fast broadband, he was for it.

"The Government is full speed ahead and we'll get fast broadcast and it's interesting why this group [the commission] is even doing that review." Content may be an issue in other countries, "but I don't think its an issue here".

"TVNZ and MediaWorks have embraced the internet and content is not what is holding up [ultra-fast broadband]," he said.

- NZ Herald

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