Since Foxtel, 25% owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, began operation in Australia it has retransmitted the ABC’s television and radio services on their cable network and later on Foxtel Digital and then Foxtel HD+ satellite services. The advantages of this to Foxtel are obvious, it allows their subscribers to watch terrestrial TV without them turning off the Foxtel set top box, meaning that they’re more likely to switch over to another Foxtel channel than another free to air broadcaster, and it adds weight to the number of channels available on their service.

In 2004 the ABC’s attitude to the retransmission agreement was that:

.. we believe that as the national public broadcaster all ABC services should be available on all platforms

However things may be about to change. Without much fanfare yesterday the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott posted this message on twitter:

OK. News Corp won its battle and will be paid so its free-to-air network appears on pay-tv services. Noted.

The story Scott linked to on the New YorkTimes may hint at a change in thinking about the relationship between the ABC and Foxtel.

The short version of the story:

News Corporation and other owners of local television stations have been fighting distributors for higher retransmission fees, arguing that their programs are worth paying for even though they are available free over the airwaves.

News Corp won the argument, sealing a deal with New York Cable TV company Cablevision after a two week blackout of Fox stations on their service.

I have no doubt that the ABC, which has seen quite a lot of expansion during Scott’s time as CEO, would be more than happy to gain a new source of revenue from Foxtel. Whether News Corp, which had argued for retransmission fees in the US, would hold the same opinion here in Australia will be very interesting to see, especially now that ABC News 24 is competing directly against Sky News Australia, which News Corp also owns a stake in via BSkyB. Will News Ltd encourage Foxtel to pay the ABC, and all of the other terrestrial broadcasters, retransmission fees for their content? Or will this be a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”?

With Mark Scott re-appinted as CEO of the ABC for the next five years I suspect that this issue will crop up sooner rather than later.