Once again Foxtel (well, News Corp) has been caught out trying to push a cosy deal. Stories this morning have revealed that the free-to-air TV networks are fighting a sneaky attempt by Foxtel for a partial exemption from tough new controls that would see gambling ads banned before 8.30pm. The ABC reports that Foxtel is pushing for exemptions “because some of its channels have ‘very small audiences'”. A spokesperson for the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA), the pay-TV industry’s peak body, is quoted as saying: 

The exemption encompasses channels, including beIN, ESPN and Eurosport that provide niche coverage of overseas events to very small audiences in contrast to the mass appeal broadcasts of the major Australian football codes on free-to-air TV, which attract much larger audiences.

Does ASTRA include other low-viewing channels like CNN, Hillsong, or BBC World News? Nope, because there is no interest in advertising sports betting on these channels. 

ASTRA overwhelmingly represents the interests of Foxtel, the only pay TV operator in Australia. Fox Sports, the largest pay TV content provider in the country, will soon be owned wholly by Foxtel, meaning the dominant operator will control the dominant content provider.

That is just another example of ASTRA and Foxtel’s disingenuous use of facts. The most watched pay TV channel on Monday of this week was ESPN (broadcast on Foxtel) with its coverage of the Super Bowl. Eurosport and Al Jazeera Media Network spinoff beIN carry coverage of rugby union, cycling, soccer, baseball, and American college sport, which have a solid following here.

Through ASTRA, Foxtel is trying to game the government and regulators, or just sticking its hand out asking for more. Last year it was the Fox Sports request for $30 million which was meant to assist in the broadcasting of minor sports. That deal, the ABC revealed, seemed to have no legitimate documentation.

Peter Fray

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