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Australia’s free-to-air channels demand guaranteed prime position on smart TVs | Television

Australia’s commercial free-to-air TV channels have called on the federal government to introduce legislation guaranteeing them prominence on smart TV home screens, claiming they are becoming “increasingly hard to find” among global streaming rivals such as Netflix.

Televisions increasingly include apps for the various streaming services available, including Netflix, Stan, Disney+ and ABC iview, as well as the commercial channels own apps.

However, Free TV Australia, which represents free-to-air stations including Seven, Nine and Ten, has flagged growing concern that the commercial stations are becoming increasingly hard to find on smart TVs.

“TV manufacturers and operating system developers increasingly exert control over which options are displayed to consumers, directing viewers to those services that can pay the highest price for preferred placement on the home screen,” Free TV Australia said in a submission to the parliamentary inquiry on social media and online harms this month.

There was also concern that streaming-specific buttons on remote controls as well as favourable placement on smart TV home screens for other streaming services were diverting viewers away from free-to-air TV.

“This means that decisions about whether free, licensed terrestrial services, together with broadcast video on demand (BVOD) apps will be readily available to Australian viewers, and if so on what terms, are increasingly being made in boardrooms in Japan, South Korea, and the US,” Free TV Australia said.

“This risk becomes even greater as manufacturers seek to monetise prominent spots on user interfaces and to reach lucrative deals with global streaming services over and above local, Australian FTA broadcast services. Manufacturers see themselves as distributors and expect a ‘clip of the ticket’ or some form of payment for access to their screen real estate.”

The organisation argued streaming companies could never replace the value of free-to-air TV.

“Global entertainment platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime cannot cut to breaking news to cover health advice updates from government or provide critical bushfire updates,” Free TV Australia said.

“Prominence and accessibility of free TV services are therefore essential to ensuring the government’s policy goals are achieved, including those relating to accurate, impartial, and trustworthy news; iconic sporting events; and provision of emergency information.”

The organisation said legislation was needed to ensure TV manufacturers made it easy for Australians to find free-to-air channels and apps, proposing a “prominence framework” requiring “free, easy and universal access” to free-to-air services, and for Australians to be made aware of free-to-air services.

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“Action is needed now to secure the long-term availability and prominence of Australian commercial FTA content services for Australian viewers,” Free TV Australia said.

Guardian Australia sought comment from the two biggest TV companies in Australia – Samsung and Sony. Samsung declined to comment.

Free TV Australia also welcomed the government’s social media exposure draft legislation, released for comment late last year, as a means to reduce the defamation risk media companies currently face for comments on social media following the high court’s Dylan Voller defamation ruling late last year.

The ruling found owners of pages and groups on social media are considered publishers for third-party comments on posts, and therefore may be liable for defamatory comments made.

The legislation would make the social media platforms the publisher of the content, but would provide a defence for the companies if they facilitate identification of the user who made the comment. Free TV said since the judgment media companies had significantly limited comments on their stories on social media.

“News media organisations have limited the number and range of articles that they share on social media, and are more often closing the comments section entirely, which prevents any discussion of the news and current affairs they are reporting.

“While the Anti-Trolling Bill is still under consideration, media companies continue to be legally responsible for this material. It will be important, in final drafting of the Anti-Trolling Bill, to ensure that social media services cannot contract-out of legal liability.”

The inquiry has closed submissions and will report back to parliament in February.

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