A few months ago word drifted
through that Rupert Murdoch had been giving his local troops a kick up
the butt over their comparatively poor record on digital media. Since
then there has been a flurry of activity. A few weeks ago it was
announced that News Ltd’s tabloid newspaper content would be available
on Hutchinson 3 Mobile phones. 3 has been the home for content from
Fairfax and the ABC virtually since start-up – not that anyone has yet
figured out a way of making it pay.

And yesterday we got confirmation of the kick up the butt
from News chairman and chief executive John Hartigan himself when he
announced the appointment of British BSkyB operations chief Richard
Freudenstein to head up local digital media operations.

Hartigan
said: “Right from the top of the organisation, Rupert Murdoch has made
it very clear that we want to win in the digital space and we need to
devote the best minds, the best thinkers and the best entrepreneurs to
it.”

Hartigan also acknowledged that News had lagged behind some
competitors online. PBL has Seek, the online jobs advertising side, and
Fairfax is one of the market leaders for news and information as well
as having its own advertising sites. News Limited is now planning to
take them on in a big way.

Murdoch has become one of the
evangelists of the digital media world, which may be one of the reasons
that he was prepared to be so provocatively outspoken against the
government’s media reform package, details of which are expected to be
released today. The word is that Murdoch no longer cares as much as he
once did about cross-media ownership restrictions. He believes the
technology is overtaking the regulation so far as newspapers are
concerned, with all newspaper sites offering or about to offer
streaming video and podcast type material. But meanwhile government
regulation is holding back innovation in broadcasting and pay
television, and holding off the decline of free to air television.

As
for the new player on the block, Internet Protocol Television, we just
have to hope that the antics of the Big Brother housemates don’t result
in regulation and licensing requirements so restrictive that they
inhibit new players from entering the market.

Peter Fray

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