Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Canberra Paves the Way for Pay Television

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Canberra Paves the Way for Pay Television

Article excerpt

AT the same time Australians are moving to beam their programming into Asia, they're also moving to open up their own country to programming from the United States. The Australian government recently passed legislation to authorize three pay-TV licenses carrying a total of 10 channels. Australians should be able to watch their first programs next year.

They've waited a long time. The government has been wrangling over the issue for 15 years. For a time there was an outright ban on pay TV, despite several major reports urging its introduction.

The networks have been lobbying hard against the introduction of the new medium, saying that they would lose valuable programs.

"Our concerns have been to make sure that pay TV can't get an unfair advantage over free-to-air TV in areas like access to programming," says Tony Brannigan, general manager of the Federation of Commercial Television Stations. The networks, he says, are concerned about getting into bidding wars over popular sporting events and movies. Movies represent 25 percent of programming in Australia, a higher percentage than in the US.

The government was concerned over whether commercial television networks should be allowed to own pay TV. "There was the perception that we have pretty powerful media groups," says Anne Davies, director of the Communications Law Center, affiliated with the University of New South Wales. "By owning pay TV as well they would get more powerful." The networks have since been allowed to bid for one of the three licenses.

Eventually the programming will be carried via satellite, but since the most advanced technology won't be ready for a few years, it will be carried via microwave signal until it's ready. Because of Australia's size and population distribution, a cable system is considered limited. So television viewing has been limited to five major Australian channels - three commercial and two owned by the government (the Australian Broadcasting Company and one multicultural station called SBS). …

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