Foxtel CEO Kim Williams lectured the National Press Club yesterday about the need for greater competition in the media and TV, saying his company would be happy to bid for a Free To Air Network if allowed — in order to provide that competition.
Williams also said the National Broadband Network (NBN) had large implications for media regulation but said the proposed review in 2011 was too late (For whom? Foxtel of course).
“That review should be brought forward and initiated as soon as possible,” Williams said, according to the report in The Australian (whose publisher, News Ltd, owns 25% of Foxtel).
It’s a review that in my view can only be conducted by the Productivity Commission — the most disciplined, authoritative and independent agency for undertaking such a far reaching piece of review in the context of the national economy, competition, consumer interests and relevant legislative and regulatory settings.
And he said it was all about, yes, consumers:
The purpose of any new rules should not be to protect some media companies or help others. The purpose should be to bring about the best quality innovation, most personal services and widest choice possible for Australian consumers.
So… is he asking his owners, Cons Media, News Ltd and Telstra to give up their present, privileged position in Pay TV? You can imagine John Hartigan’s (News Ltd chairman) phone call to Mr Williams… “What’s this stuff about competition, Kim, if it means we have to give up some of our quids and pros?”
I guess that rules Foxtel out (with News and Telstra in the driver’s seat) from launching a cheap offer for the Nine Network to help CVC out of its costly adventure, especially with James Packer no longer any interested in Nine, but remaining as the 38% controller of 25% of Foxtel and 50% of Premier Media Group, which owns Fox Sports, the most profitable part of Pay TV in this country.
That’s been a rumour doing the rounds of the TV industry.
But there was a greater irony: Kim Williams, the CEO of the Pay TV monopolist, lecturing the rest of the Australian media about the need for greater competition, where his three owners have done their very best to ruin and frustrate competition in the media industry and especially Pay TV.
Here’s an idea for Kim to put to any inquiry: The ACCC should break up Telstra, force it to sell its 50% of Foxtel (and not allow Seven or anyone else to grab that, especially News). Failing that sale, the Commission should “declare” the Foxtel Network as a national asset, much in the way the ACCC has declared the rail networks of BHP and Rio Tinto in the Pilbara iron ore province, to allow third party access.
I somehow don’t think we will see that idea from Williams. There’s only so much competition one can aspire to.
The National Broadband Network will change Pay TV in this country — if you have a high speed broadband connection, why do you need to pay for Foxtel, or to Austar? Why not use an alternative service?
Foxtel has been given the monopoly on the infrastructure paid for by the Australian taxpayer when they owned Telstra.
Despite Kim Williams’ best attempts to suggest that he and Foxtel are pure and holy and the forces of darkness are elsewhere, Free To Air TV in this country is not a monopoly nor is it anti-competitive. It is restricted and people like Kerry Stokes and the Packers have got nice deals in the past. But so have the owners of Foxtel, which Mr Williams neglects to mention.
Last time I looked there were three commercial networks, a public network, a quasi public/commercial network and a community network. That’s five more networks than Foxtel. And when the NBN comes, they will have a competitive and pricing advantage over Foxtel.
The NBN should be open slather, within the bounds ot normal regulation of the competitive urges and juices.