CRA lodges submission to competitive neutrality inquiry into the national broadcasters | radioinfo

CRA lodges submission to competitive neutrality inquiry into the national broadcasters

Tuesday 26 June, 2018

'A gaping inequality.'

Commercial Radio Australia has provided radioinfo with its submission to the Department of Communications and the Arts' inquiry into the competetive neutrality of the national broadcasters, lodged yesterday. 

The Department in April sought views on whether the ABC and SBS are operating in line with competetive neutrality principles. 

"The commercial radio industry understands that the national broadcasters are a valued part of the Australian community and media landscape. We do not seek to change this,'  the CRA submission states. 

"There are many examples of content produced by the national broadcasters that fulfil their Charters and supplement content offered by commercial broadcasters, such as the SBS in-language radio programs and ABC Classic FM."

While supportive of the national broadcasters, CRA has raised concerns that the ABC 'is inhibiting innovation in the commercial sector in newer areas such as podcasting through aggressive marketing, including the use of cross-platform promotion and paid advertising on Google and Facebook to prioritise its products and services over commercial services.'
The CRA submission cites examples where searches in the App Store for Triple M, KISS and 3AW result in the ABC listen app being promoted over the commercial stations’ apps:

"The ABC appears to use its government funding to market aggressively against the commercial sector. On occasion it appears to seek to erode rather than complement
existing commercial services.

"This is contrary to both section 6(2) of the ABC Act6 and the principles of the Competitive Neutrality Policy. The ABC Act requires the ABC to take account of ‘the broadcasting services provided by the
commercial and community sectors of the Australian broadcasting system’. It is not in the spirit of this provision for the ABC to compete unreasonably with the commercial sector.

CRA also raised concerns over some instances of commercial promotional content being broadcast on the ABC.

"The absence of a requirement to earn a commercial return of assets can result in an undue advantage to the ABC...

"More significant is the ABC’s ability to promote heavily its own content in the absence of third party advertising. This places commercial stations at a severe disadvantage, particularly when launching new content, such as podcasts... the ABC is able to bombard listeners with adverts for its own content and products, without facing the risk of overwhelming its audience with advertising content. Its extensive promotions cover programs, podcasts and its own merchandise.

"The ABC’s promotion of its own podcast content in news formats is particularly concerning.

"In 2017, the ABC launched a podcast called Trace, which looked at the unsolved murder of Maria James in 1980. The ABC used the news pages on its website to cover the unsolved murder, while at the same time promoting its podcast. The ability to promote its own content, particularly in the relatively new podcast format, gives the ABC a huge advantage over its commercial counterparts."

CRA strongly supports the principle of government funding rather than advertising revenue to support the national broadcasters, but CRA's primary concern "is to preserve diversity within Australian media by ensuring that the commercial and public broadcasting sectors can operate in a complementary manner."

The submission suggests there is 'a gaping inequality' between the regulations applicable to commercial compared with national broadcasters.

"Commercial broadcasters are more heavily regulated than their publicly funded counterparts. There is no regulatory neutrality between the sectors, as the national broadcasters have neither local content nor Australian music obligations."

As well as regulations, the submission says and that the commercial industry also suffers from an inequality of tech regulation which places it at a disadvantage. 

"The ABC dominates the FM spectrum. It has numerous very high power sites across the country and continues to apply for more. This has made AM-FM conversion extremely difficult in many regional areas."

Submissions to the government's competetive neutrality will contribute to how the Department examines how the national broadcasters compete with the private sector. 

Read the full submission here

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Anthony The Koala
29 June 2018 - 2:12pm
I fully agree about the issue of high power transmitters but disagree about the issue of podcasts produced by the ABC being a competitive advantage over the commercial stations.

As I have said elsewhere, the ABC could reduce its costs by (i) switching off ABC-fm and transferring the contents to DAB and DVB with a higher data rate. Digital transmission is not an anathema to ABC-fm. When ABC-fm started in 1976 in Collinswood, Adelaide, the national distribution of ABC-fm's signal was digitally transmitted via Telecom Australia's (Telstra) cables. Pure digital. At the capital cities, the digital signals were converted to analogue to be fed into the VHF transmitters. So ABC-fm going digital is not new. Therefore save power and move to DAB and DVB. (ii)The second reason is also about transmitters. If commercial radio stations whether metro or rural can cope with 2kW and 5kW AM transmitters, the ABC could wind down the 50kW transmitters to 2kW and 5kW in the metropolitan and rural areas.

I fully disagree with the concerns by CRA in regards to "aggressive cross-promotion" of its programs. If you listen to RN, you can hear something, "listen to the XYZ program on Sundays at 0830 or download the podcast". Commercial stations such as MML's 2GB and 2UE promote their podcasts of interviews.

CRA's concerns about the ABC promoting the unsolved murder mystery of "Maria James" being aggressively promoted through its webpages and channels is unfounded. The same could be said about the ABC using Google Ads and Facebook to promote itself on the internet. The cross promotion of programs is not new in commercial radio. The ABC has woken up about cross promoting its programs. One could say that the ABC promoting its programs via Google and Facebook is a very smart and economic allocation of its resources over traditional newspapers and outdoor advertising. Commercial radio stations also have websites and Facebook pages. They too should put podcasts of their programs and/or segments and use Google and Facebook to promote their product.

It seems to me that the lack of action of (some) commercial broadcasters in regards to promotion, cross promotion and aggressive marketing of its radio stations on the internet and its program podcasts is not an excuse to say that the ABC is not "competitively neutral"'. Before the internet, commercial radio stations aggressively promoted themselves on public transport at railway platforms, the back of buses, billboards, bus shelters, billboards and newspapers.

The internet is the new medium and commercial radio stations should have the foresight like the ABC to promote and cross promote its station and programs.

Thank you,
Anthony of exciting Belfield
ABC promoting its own contents - not new.
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