Television's Future Vision

(Part 2)

The ABC is dead!

The previous government's plans for a fabulous new, all-singing, all-dancing television and telecommunications system have come unstuck as the loopholes, inappropriate and ad hoc policy decisions, poor license auction procedures and an increasing confusion over the commercial role of the "non-commercial" ABC, SBS and Telstra leaving viewer expectations and operators business plans in tatters. Some see the beginning of the end for the idea of public service broadcasting: as we begin to see Telstra more as a television and information provider and the ABC more as communications provider, what will the difference be in selling one and not the other?

But if we lose this valuable public information infrastructure what then will maintain the cheap availability of telephones nationwide - not just in urban areas - and freely available "cultural" programming and independent news and current affairs?

The Broadcast Services Act is dead!

The artificial and technologically biased system of "separating" carriage (the BSA) and content (the Telecommunications Act) is confounded at every turn by the creation of Telstras new content (or was that "media") arm, Telstra Multimedia, the Foxtel joint venture between the US-based News Corporation and Telstra, and the rapid coming together of "service" providers jointly supplying services and content. Even a browser application on the World Wide Web (such as Netscape, Explorer or Mosaic) is an example of the inseparable interweave of content (Web pages) and carriage (the Internet and data transport protocols).

Access is dead!

With no common standard of interconnection - which made our phone, broadcast television and now the Internet-based industries so powerful - the first one to the home with their cable and set top box gateway wins the viewer - irrevocably locked into one service. That is until satellite and radio data transmission systems become available and put pressure on very expensive cable systems and compete with them for the delivery of information and entertainment, spreading meagre budgets still further throughout the expanding delivery systems, and rendering Telstra's proposed shares practically valueless.

A manifest lack of mandated access for new and smaller players to the game of television - and this in a system supposedly under an "open access" regime - has left the old players firmly in control of our television system. (There is the small but notable exception of trial community television and cable services - such as Optus Vision's LocalVision services in the capitals - that slip through the barriers because they are perceived as non-commercial and marginal and hence no threat to the existing interests of private and public broadcasters.)

Soon, aided by appropriate legislation, familiar names and big players will further consolidate their control of the Australian telecommunications system - now including the broadcasting and communications systems - through horizontal and vertical integration by telecommunications carriers, production houses, and cross-media marketing company holdings (magazines, newspapers, etc). And it is this system that underpins our relevance and connection to each other and the wider world.

Television's Future Vision Part 3 >

TechTonic is a production of 3V 1995-2002