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Foxtel cries wolf at the threat of fast broadband

IFPI script gets the megaphone treatment

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Foxtel Australia boss Richard Freudenstein has picked up the IPFI megaphone and asked Australia's federal government to protect his business model from the rampant piracy that will doubtless emerge from the rollout of the National Broadband Network.

Speaking to the ASTRA (Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association) conference this week, Freudenstein upended the obligatory bucket on the government's proposed media reforms – a homeopathic version of what was proposed for the UK by the Leveson inquiry – saying that media ownership doesn't need more government intervention.

The head of the 50 percent News Corporation-owned Foxtel, which dominates Australia's Pay TV market with a 2.27 million subscribers out of a total market of around 2.49 million, said the government's proposed public interest test for media ownership would be “cumbersome”.

Piracy, on the other hand, would apparently be much easier to deal with, since it would only require recalcitrant ISPs to sign on for a model similar to the “Skynet” laws that are working so effectively in New Zealand.

“On the other hand, an area where the government could usefully intervene is in relation to online piracy. It is a global phenomenon that has a capacity to devastate traditional content creation industries,” Freudenstein told the ASTRA conference.

Grudgingly acknowledging at least one reality, he said the industry had “done our bit” by fast-tracking content from international markets.

“It is time for ISPs and government to act to protect intellectual property. We need to have an appropriate system in place before the NBN is rolled out in whatever form that happens because with superfast broadband the floodgates could really open,” he said.

The Pay TV giant also took its first tentative steps into Internet delivery, announcing a package for $AU25 that will allow users access to unspecified channels through the Foxtel Play smartphone app.

Due in June, Foxtel Play will be a relaunch of the company's platform-tied Foxtel On service, which was available on the Telstra T-Box (amusingly transcribed from his speech as “T-Botch”), X-Box and on Samsung TVs.

The new app will be available for “selected TVs, games consoles … smartphones, tablets and PC and Mac personal computers”, Freudenstein said. It will be a pay-by-the-month service starting at $25 and giving users genre-based channel packs.

In spite of the devastation already wrought upon the content industries by the Internet, Freudenstein stated that subscription TV audiences in Australia had grown by 13 percent in five years, citing ratings agency OzTAM as his source.

Foxtel's contribution to the debate, if predictable, is somewhat more muted than Murdoch's print organs in Australia such as the Daily Telegraph, which repurposed an advertisement crafted by the UK's Free Speech Network as its front-page article (Mumbrella shows the two side-by-side here).

The transcript of the speech is here. ®

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