Monday, February 08, 2010

Well it's quarter of a billion, see. And I'm handing it to Australia's commercial television stations

Christmas has come early to Australia's commercial television channels in the form of a $240 million gift from Communications Minister Steven Conroy.

This year he will give the networks a 33 per cent rebate on their annual licence fees of $287, and next year a 50 per cent rebate.

Although the announcement is headed "Government to protect Australian content on commercial television" the broadcasters will be required to do no more than meet the existing Australian content requirements in return for the rebates.

The Minister said Australian networks faced higher licence fees than those overseas and were facing challenges including the switch to digital television.

"Broadcasters have a unique role in preserving our national culture and the commercial television sector invests hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the production of local content," he said.

"However, they are faced with a converging media environment and switch to digital television, as well as the impact on revenue created by a decline in advertising spend as a result of the global financial crisis"...

"The Government recognises that the commercial broadcasters will require assistance to maintain Australian content production, while investing in a new delivery platform. "

The $240 million in rebates follows long negotiations with the networks and is understood to be an attempt to keep them profitable.

The Nine network is majority foreign owned and the seven network is half foreign owned.

Channel Nine last night wrongly reported the deal as saying it would "guarantee the continued production of series such as Underbelly". In fact it imposes no additional requirements on the networks.

They are already required to meet a range of targets including broadcasting Australian material for 55 per cent of the time between 6 am and midnight.

The Ministers office last night declined to give an assurance that the rebates would not continue beyond 2011.

Australian networks pay around 8 per cent of their revenue in license fees, compared to around 2 per cent in the US, the UK and Canada.

Coalition Communications spokesman Tony Smith yesterday backed Senator Conroy on the rebates.

"Preserving quality Australian content is important and there is little doubt the cost of delivering that content is higher at present," he said. "While we acknowledge support is warranted during transition to digital television, we look forward to considering further details and the government's costings."

Published in today's SMH and Age

Licence Fee Relief Conroy

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