Two
stories around in the Australian and US media in the past 24 hours underline the
absurd fears that existing media companies have of being overtaken by the “new
media”. Take this story overnight from the
New York Times about the decision by Yahoo to abandon grandiose plans to produce
its own content online.

The
Times
reported: “After proclaiming grand plans to bring
elaborately produced sitcoms, talk shows and other television-style
programs to the Internet, the head of Yahoo’s Media Group said
yesterday that he was sharply scaling back those efforts. He said the
group would shift its focus to content acquired from other media
companies or submitted by users.” Also remember that Microsoft has
bailed out of online content, while News Corp is trying to find ways of
helping people develop their own.

Now look at this story, also from the NY Times, about the spoof two-minute film trailer, Brokeback to the Future (see it here), that combined the themes, ideas and music from Brokeback Mountain with footage from the Back
to the Future

movies. It’s funny and obviously produced on a shoestring budget but
short – meaning an awful lot of them would have to be made to provide
original online content as competition to existing Free To Air or Pay
TV.

And
that remains the problem. Despite all the warnings issued by people like James
Packer, Rupert Murdoch and David Kirk of Fairfax, the internet is not going to
end or destroy their existing media businesses. It may alter the way they
operate and make money, but not destroy them. Existing operators stand to make huge amounts of
money because of their control of new and used content and their ability to
finance it. Content remains king and the
emperors are those who have the money and the skill to get
it.

That’s why Free To Air and Pay TV are meaningless divisions and
multicasting or channeling should be allowed when the Federal Government’s new
media rules are produced in the next few weeks. And
why everyone should be allowed to own a channel for minimal cost, excluding the
big players, and be allowed to combine them into a fourth or fifth TV
network, if they want to.

The commercial networks and newspaper companies should be forced to
decide if they want to become single media players with the cross media
laws being tightened, not relaxed. That won’t happen in John Howard’s
world, but if he really wants to leave a mark, and send a message to
the Murdochs and Packers that he’s his own man, then the media laws are
the ideal vehicle.

Peter Fray

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