Superficially Malcolm Turnbull is applying free market logic however his government’s ideology is steeped in fear and loathing for the community sector, unless it’s the mining community or banking community or property owners community…
Clearly this is not an issue about the viability of broadcast free-to-air TV in general since the minister is not directing other TV networks to vacate the spectrum. It is kicking off community TV because they can’t pay the ransom fees the other players pay. When Turnbull says he can get more money for this spectrum elsewhere, he’s probably right but he is also protecting the existing TV networks from any similar competition, a fact that probably wont be forgotten.
However you do have to feel for the community TV players. Told to fend for themselves from the beginning, the only government help was lower licence fees and access to the RF spectrum, which paradoxically left them totally exposed to the whims of the new right wing junta currently flexing its muscles in Canberra. Slowly they have evolved into cultural icons perhaps best illustrated by Melbourne’s Ch31 only to fall victim to the new right’s culture warriors.
I think this is the real battle. It could be just about the money but several points don’t make a lot of sense unless you factor in the Libs natural antipathy for anything communal or socially based. For example, Turnbull is on the one hand telling the world we don’t need faster internet and then telling content generators that the internet is their future. Huh? How does that work? If you look at traffic generators on the web, video gobbles up bandwidth faster than anything. Horses, carts anyone?
Of course the dark side of me also says wait a minute, the thing about free to air TV is you can’t actually tell who is watching stuff whereas as we all know these days the government knows exactly what you are doing on the internet. Could this be a not too subtle effort to get deviant left leaning community TV watchers onto the web so their thoughts could be monitored? Just another case of making sure everything is monitored and controlled? Surely the party of freedom and Bob Menzies wouldn’t be so motivated would they?
Of course in the meantime it will disrupt the noisome rabble and allow the ruling class to get on with business. The fifteen month transition window is hopelessly inadequate and similarly speaks to the minister’s ignorance on how things work in the real world. Broadcast TV is not a Youtube channel. I can be a Youtube channel with nothing more than camera-phone and an internet connection. There is no standard I have to adhere to (other than some prudish Google rules and some Byzantine copyright interpretations), I don’t have any professional obligations, if I choose my anonymity is virtually guaranteed, I can do and say virtually anything. I also don’t need elaborate studios, personnel or technical infrastructure, offices or general managers. But best of all I don’t need to broadcast according to some rigid timetable, I can just make shit up as I go along. Yes Minister, the future of TV is the internet but not TV as we know it.
The real 21st century solution to both spectrum allocation issues and cultural plurality is actually denied by this government’s decision to restrict the NBN to fibre to the node. Again it speaks to the technical ignorance of this mob who think the internet is the sum of Google and Facebook, with the odd email thrown in. It is possible with increasing bandwidth and reliability to distribute media via the public internet but that requires a different mindset to the Youtube mentality. Critically it also depends on the sort of infrastructure the NBN was supposed to be. In a nutshell it boils down to doing cable TV on the internet which of course leads to talk about how the Lib’s NBN is payback to Rupert and Foxtel.
So, in rather typical fashion, the gubbermints decision is superficially about one set of economics but seems to be about another set of economics with some serious cultural implications tossed in (and aside). If Turnbull was fair dinkum he would devote some of his department’s energy into investigating how broadcasters like CH31 can transition to a cableTV/internet model. The keystone objects are largely in place with payment options (pay per view, subscriptions etc) and technical delivery systems already established, but working models are few. Inquiring into this sort of stuff is the sort of things governments are good at, but then again it probably wouldn’t happen inside of 15 years let alone 15 months.
In one sense Tunbull is right when he says the future for TV is the internet, but either he is wilfully ignorant about how the two differ culturally and economically or he doesn’t care as long as he silences the annoying rabble amongst the clattering class.