Oz’s feevee webs in bid for content

Aussie competition org looking to shore up industry

SYDNEY — Australia’s powerful antitrust body has triggered further debate on the bid by feevee channels to share content and delivery services.

The three-week public consultation is the latest move in a long-running battle to create a viable feevee industry in a market where penetration has stalled at 23% and no carrier has seen a return on a collective $A8 billion ($4.34 billion) investment since the industry started up in 1995.

Dominant platform Foxtel (News Corp. and Kerry Packer’s PBL each own a 25% stake, telco Telstra 50%) and Singtel’s Optus announced a plan in March that would have seen Foxtel become the key content provider, Optus a key platform and UnitedGlobalCom’s Austar retain its dominance in regional satcasting and cabling.

But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission nixed the plan in June, saying it created a monopoly. So it was back to the drawing board for the feevee operators who are also battling for price reductions from Hollywood studios, which are shareholders in the key movie channels.

Foxtel CEO Kim Williams announced it had inked to carry the MovieNetwork — a service previously available only to Optus and Austar subscribers. He confirmed price negotiations were continuing with Foxtel’s existing movie supplier the Premium Movie Partnership, owned by Paramount, Universal, Sony, Fox and Liberty Media.

Part of the ACCC’s consultation process involved releasing submissions made by Austar, Optus, Foxtel and Telstra. Foxtel led the charge by presenting a summary of its 393-page submission, in consultation with Optus and Austar, in a briefing Thursday.

Among other things Foxtel promised to spend $326 million on digital upgrades over the next three years, resulting in capacity for more than 400 channels to which it would offer access to anyone who can pay the $407,000 license fee.

The Seven Network, a terrestrial web with multichannel aspirations so far thwarted by Foxtel, said the bid by Foxtel and its partners to appease the ACCC “did not address the long-term structural implications of a monopoly in carriage or content.”

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