Are we witnessing the death of regional television?
For those that lived in the regions, early 1989 was an exciting time. All of a sudden, as a result of commercial television aggregation, parts of Australia were able to watch three commercial television channels that (roughly) corresponded with the metro channels Seven, Nine and Ten.
These were simple times. Pay television was still a couple of years away, and the internet didn’t exist outside of CERN. For those outside of the capital cities aggregation meant that finally you choose to watch Home and Away OR Neighbours.
It was big stuff.
‘Flash forward’ (to use television parlance) 25 years and the optimistic view of regional television is dead. Under the threat of streaming services – namely from the big metro networks – and the increased cost of providing local new services, regional stations have never been less valuable.
As of this morning, there are new call for the archaic cross-media ownership laws to be dismantled. Owners of the regional networks are watching the value of their assets fall on a monthly basis, and the only way out appears to be through a takeover by one of the metros.
Not that all the metros are that strong, nor that this situation is particularly appetising for consumers. The biggest indicator for the future of Australian television has come through Ten effectively betting its future on a slow takeover by Foxtel.
Following ACCC approval of the pay television giant’s 15% investment in Ten, the doorway is being further squeezed open for near-full ownership of the free-to-air network. Rumours continue to circulate that the future of the network is commercial version of ABC News 24 – possibly in place of Sky News that is only available on Foxtel.
This outcome is not beyond reality for two reasons. The Chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims, in approving the Foxtel 15% investment, stated that, “existing regulations may no longer be effective,” given the current media environment.
Secondly, with Lachlan Murdoch, James Packer and Gina Rinehart as significant investors in the company with a large amount of influence over the board, it’s not hard to imagine a Fox News-style of operation emerging over time. Certainly the company has tested the waters through the News Limited-produced The Bolt Report. Perhaps, in the near future we might be treated to something like this: