December 8, 2023

The Australian government implements 'must carry' regulation for smart tv screens.

Szymon Karbowski
The Australian government implements 'must carry' regulation for smart tv screens.

Michelle Rowland, Minister for Communications in the Australian Government, announced regulations on 29 November that will require manufacturers of smart TVs to make it easy for users to find channels from local broadcasters (including the ABC, SBS and commercial networks) when they turn them on. The new law requires TV manufacturers to preload iview, SBS On Demand, 9 Now, 7Plus and 10 Play on all smart TVs sold in Australia. The main purpose of the introduction of the new regulation is to ensure that these applications cannot be unfairly hidden in the user interface. They are designed to be as visible as the apps of major players such as Netflix or Disney+.

The new rules have sparked debate in Australia between free-to-air broadcasters, TV platforms, producers and Foxtel. There have also been attempts to use this debate to create panic. The bottom line is that the proposed Smart TV Act is really a small change to support local content broadcasters and public service broadcasters without harming viewers or improving their experience.  Smart TVs require smart adjustments. This is largely due to the research carried out by the Australian Research Council. Tests have shown that local services are much less visible and less frequently installed than Netflix, Disney+ or other US streaming platforms. The research also found that ⅓ of Australian Smart TV users don't know how to install or even find apps on these devices. The conclusion of the study is that unless the local broadcaster's app is pre-configured and visible, Smart TV users will never use it.

Leading TV manufacturers have 'reinvented' themselves as advertising platforms, charging apps for visibility in order to generate advertising revenue. The amount of advertising fees charged depends on the order in which the applications are displayed when the smart TV is turned on. TV brands LG, Samsung, Hisense and TCL have launched their own FAST (Free Advertiser Supported TV) channels and display them on the home screen when the TV is turned on.
It is well known that giants such as Netflix, the streaming service, pay TV manufacturers for branded buttons on remote controls that local broadcasters cannot afford. Local TV and cable broadcasters do not have the budgets to do this and therefore have less influence.

The new law will come into force in Australia in mid-2025 and a key element of it is a 'must carry' requirement. The Australian Communications and Media Authority will be announcing the details of the new law in the coming months. But the Australian government's main goal is to require manufacturers of Smart TVs and Smart TV devices sold in their country to pre-install apps for streaming Australian FTA channels. These apps will have to be the same size and format as other streaming apps. This ensures that they are not lost in the clutter of other links or other applications.
The order in which the app shortcuts are arranged will be determined by the smart device manufacturers, and then each user will be able to arrange them in any order they choose. So the ultimate control is going to be with the people who buy the smart TVs.
Interestingly, the research found that 59% of Australian adults support the mandatory pre-installation of broadcaster apps on new smart TVs, while only 15% disagree. The remainder were unsure or had no opinion.
However, the national broadcasters' lobby did not get everything they wanted, as they also wanted their apps to be at the top of recommendations and search results on devices. However, the government has opted for a more modest version of the 'must carry' principle, i.e. the order of search results and recommendations will depend on the manufacturer.

Many countries regulate televisions for cultural, industrial and safety reasons. If some people don't like government intervention in smart TVs and think it's overkill, unfortunately many other countries want to introduce similar regulations to Australia and think it's justified. Promoting local broadcasters' apps on these devices is a priority for them and is intended as a longer-term measure. It should not be forgotten that a government introducing such regulations in its country must take into account the autonomy of Smart TV users, the needs of the local industry and market considerations. This is clearly a step towards media reform and looking after the interests of local broadcasters who do not have the same opportunities as the global leaders in video streaming apps.

#SzymonKarbowski #StreamVX #Australia #MustCarry #SmartTV #regulation #Netflix #Disney+

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