Broadband and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has announced the first tranche of the government’s long-awaited response to the Convergence Review, releasing a package of changes to commercial television regulation, including maintenance of the existing 50% rebate, stronger local content rules and the abolition of the 75% restriction on commercial television licences.

The Minister’s media release follows:

Government moves to ensure quality Australian content stays on Australian television

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, today announced a package of measures to ensure quality Australian content continues to be seen on Australian television.

“Free-to-air television plays an important part in our lives, and seeing Australian stories told on TV is vital in reflecting and maintaining our Australian identity, character and diversity,” Senator Conroy said.

“To make sure that we keep being able to watch Australian content, we are taking a number of steps to enable commercial television broadcasters to continue to invest in and broadcast Australian content.

The Government will:

  • Immediately extend, via regulation, the current rebate on television broadcasting licence fees by a further 12 months, ahead of moving to reduce television broadcasting licence fees permanently by 50 per cent, to a maximum of 4.5 per cent of revenue. The rebates will have effect for the 2012-13 financial year.
  • Introduce a multichannel Australian content requirement for each commercial television broadcaster of 730 hours in 2013, increasing to 1095 hours in 2014 and to 1460 hours in 2015. This includes an incentive for first-release drama by allowing an hour of first release drama premiered on a digital multichannel to count for two hours under the transmission hours requirement for multichannels.
  •  Retain the current 55 per cent transmission quota for the commercial television broadcasters’ primary channels, but introduce greater flexibility into the current arrangements for sub-quotas.

These measures are part of the Government’s initial response to the Convergence Review. The Government’s consideration of the review is continuing, and further announcements will be made next year.

“The Government will develop legislation to implement the reforms announced today by March 2013, with appropriate transitional arrangements for the new Australian content measures. These content requirements will apply from 1 January 2013.

“The Government will also start consultations early in 2013 on how captioning levels will be increased on multichannels following digital switchover. These measures address content and captioning levels on digital multichannels that were to be separately reviewed.

In 2011-12 the commercial television industry invested a record $1.35 billion in Australian programming: drama, sport, news and current affairs and light entertainment. In the same period, revenues have remained weak and costs have increased.

“Commercial free-to-air television is under pressure from the structural change taking place in the media due to the convergence of content delivery platforms and changing consumer habits. Without adjustments to the current rules, the industry could be forced to drop quality Australian content as cost-cutting bites into programming.

“Updating the rules on commercial free-to-air television broadcasters gives them certainty, and allows them the flexibility and capacity to innovate and thrive.

The Government has also decided that no spectrum or broadcast licences will be made available to enable a fourth free-to-air television network. This follows the Minister’s review of future uses of the so-called ‘sixth channel’ of television spectrum.

“Online technologies like IPTV are giving people new ways to access content. The low barriers to entry for these online content services and the scope for future innovation mean that in the long term, these online platforms are likely to be a real alternative to traditional terrestrial television. The rollout of the NBN will further facilitate this.

“Potential uses of the sixth channel will be considered in the longer term, in the light of the Australian Communication and Media Authority’s assessment of future broadcasting technologies.

“In the meantime, the Government will allow community television to use spectrum intended for the sixth channel until at least 31 December 2014. The Government remains committed to ensuring community television has a permanent spectrum allocation for digital broadcasting.”

The Government will also remove the out-dated restriction on a person controlling a network of commercial television stations that has an audience reach of greater than 75 per cent of the Australian population—the “75 per cent reach rule”. This will be subject to adherence with existing local content obligations in regional areas and written undertakings in respect of those obligations. This restriction will be removed subject to the approval of Parliament.

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