Ashley Highfield Advocates Use of White Space for Broadband in UK at Edinburgh International Television Festival

In a speech at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, the managing director of consumer and online at Microsoft UK (and former BBC director of future media and technology) Ashley Highfield advocated the use of unused spectrum in the broadcasting bands to provide fast broadband to rural communities. This is an endorsement of the White Space initiative first proposed in the US by a coalition of corporations including Microsoft and Google. It also provides a possible alternative to the unpopular proposal made in the Digital Britain report that a charge of 6 pounds be levied on all landlines to pay for broadband expansion and upgrade. (See also the online forum on Digital Britain.)

Highfield’s prediction that the TV industry has a window of 2-3 years to create viable digital businesses, or face “a version of the iTunes moment”, has gained most media coverage.  Interesting that his speech came on the same day that James Murdoch attacked the BBC, and the provision (or in his terms the ‘dumping’) of free news and entertainment content on the internet, for hindering competition

“The corporation is incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country,” [Murdoch claimed]. “Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling.”

“Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it,” he said.

He added: “We seem to have decided to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market, and get bigger to compensate.”

Erica Naone has written an article (18 August 2009) on the technological issues around the white space idea in the MIT Technology Review.

Video of the whole of Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture is available via the Guardian’s website.

The BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, responded by reportedly engaged in a ‘slanging match’ with Murdoch.  Peston earlier delivered the Richard Dunn memorial lecture entitled “what future for media and broadcasting?”.

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Sports and the future of (free to air) television

Channel 10 announced yesterday that their HD channel would be a 24 hour sports channel, to be named ONE. Report in The Australian HERE.

It will feature “less advertising” than TEN.

TEN Head of Sport David White said “Live and exclusive will be a hallmark of the channel”.

Sports on the anti-siphoning list can only be shown on ONE AFTER or SIMULTANEOUSLY with broadcast on TEN

Ten owns rights to swimming, netball, Indian Premier League (20/20) cricket, and jointly owns AFL and Commonwealth Games. ABC reports TEN also owns rights to US NBA basketball and major league baseball matches, the US Open golf and tennis championships, the US Masters golf, and Formula One and Nascar motor racing.

Rivals are keen to say they are not concerned. John Porter (Austar) told analysts and journalists yesterday (reported in The West Australian HERE):

“I don’t consider the Ten sports initiative to have any impact on our commercial business, nor on our core business,” Mr Porter said during a telephone briefing with analysts and journalists.

“It in no way approximates the sports offering that Fox Sports delivers and ESPN, Setanta Sports and Fox Sports News – the six or seven sports channels that we offer.”

Little bit of a worry that he doesn’t know exactly how many sports channels Austar offers…

Fox Sports chief operating officer Jon Marquand was dismissive, quoted in Australian article as saying “I don’t think there’s much new there if you look at the content”. This is slightly disingenuous, given that a large proportion of the ONE content will be live or recorded live (and therefore ‘new’ in the sense of not having happened yet and never seen before).

We can expect to see a lot (more) sport on television as HD comes in.

There are currently 11 sports channels available on subscription television (Fox Sports 1,2,3 and Fox Sports News, ESPN, TVN, Sky Racing, FUEL TV, Setanta, Eurosports, National Geographic Adventure). ABC2 has started broadcasting WNBL matches live on Friday nights. ABC1 screens bowls, the WNBL and the W-League (Women’s football). On Sunday last, various kinds of motor sport were on channels 7, 10 and SBS simultaneously. Sunday afternoons on SBS is motor sport and football (the round ball game).

Given the popularity of their paralympics coverage, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the ABC cover sports like wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball.

Sports are critical programming for the commercial free to air television broadcasters, one of the few guaranteed ‘audience massers’. And if stats from the AFC are anything to go by, this importance has only increased in the last five years:

(All references to FTA)

  • In 2007, the top 6 programs for the year were all sports, 13 of the top 20, and 8 of the 11 drawing over 2 million viewers
  • In 2006, 4 of the top 5 (including no.1), 7 of the top 10, 13 of the top 20
  • In 2005, the top 9 programs for the year were all sports, 11 of the top 20
  • In 2004, highest rating sports program was no.3 for the year, 3 of top 10, 4 of top 20
  • In 2003, 5 of the top 10 (including no.1), 5 of the top 10, 5 of the top 20
  • In 2002, highest rating sports program was no.2, 4 of top 10, 6 of top 20

Advertising spend in UK – new stats

Advertising: Internet Advertising Bureau/PWC/World Advertising Research Centre stats show internet ad spend up significantly in UK as overall ad market shrinks slightly. Search advertising is still majority (981 million pounds out of 1.68 billion total internet ad spend for Jan-June 08).

Story by Mark Sweney in The Guardian 7 October HERE

Internet advertising spend is “propping up” traditional media, according to a report, surging 21% year on year to £1.68bn in the first six months of 2008.

The resilience of internet ad spend in the downturn turned what would have been a 4.6% year-on-year decline in UK advertising spend in the first half to a slide of just 0.7%, according to the study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In this study, internet ad share of total market is 18.7% compared to TV advertising at 21.7%.

Compare with USA – see this CHART of stats for June 08 which shows TV (combined local, cable and network) taking around 60% of market, while internet at under 7%.

And compare with China where KPMG report predicts 40% growth of internet ads next year, to $5.2bn out of total ad market of $37.85bn, see Mark Sweney’s story in the Guardian 22 October 2008 HERE.

The same KPMG report sees opportunities in television content for international coproductions with Chinese producers

KPMG also forecasts that China’s huge TV market – 1.19 billion TV viewers over the age of four and one-third of the global cable TV market, which accounts for more than 60% of the country’s media spend – also presents opportunities for western companies.

“Content generation represents a big opportunity. Chinese TV producers are increasingly likely to need to look outside China to secure appropriate content and programme formats for different channels,” Honson said.

In late September Mark Sweney wrote about the downturn in ad spend in UK and predictions of a ‘horror show’ for media companies in 2009.

This puts into perspective Sir Michael Grade’s comments about ITV giving up its public service broadcasting remit, as reported by Andy last week.

Noting the announcement this week of the review of the public broadcasters here in Australia, could it be that the relative size and importance of the ABC and SBS may grow significantly if, as some predict, there will be a decline in the commercial television advertising market which might (given James Packer’s to get out of Channel 9 this week) hasten the demise of the commercial FTA/network system?

Margaret Simons’ overview of the issues around the PSB review is HERE at a new website Inside Story, the brainchild of Peter Browne (Australian Policy Online and Creative Economy) and the Institute of Social Research at Swinburne University. Perhaps here at Inside Story is one answer to what will happen to quality journalism.

Public Service Broadcasting commitments on Commercial TV

Like the Australian system, in the UK the Commercial Free to Air ITV has a s et of Public Service Commitments which they are now cosidering jettisioning.   Media Guardian has published a couple of eye-opening articles based on a speech made by Michael Grade the MD of ITV.    The first outlines the potential, the second outlines the potential cost.   Both have real relevance to our Quadrants 2-4.

Scuttling Regional Television Content

We have frequently discussed the potential for Australian commercial television broadcasters to seek to reduce their Public Service content responsibilities in the face of new media incursions.    This is exactly what is now happening in the UK.

ITV should be allowed to drop some regional news bulletins, reduce regional programming by 50% and cut back on some current affairs programmes, according to media regulator Ofcom, which has forecast that up to £235m per year will be needed by 2012 to maintain public service content on commercial TV.”   That is the opening paragraph in a Media Guardian article of 25/9/08 which reveals the arguments that Ofcom accepts for ITV to reduce its regional responsibilities.

Just as here, the original ITV licence-holders and their successors were granted their licences in return for some solid public service content.   Just like here the responsibilities  were part of the fabric of British television.   Just like here, the responsibilities have given birth to some magnificent programming and significant local and regional production opportunities.

Now they are to be whittled away in the face of real competition.

Givent that the UK TV system has always been far more rigorous about local content than has the Australian system, it will be interesting to see how quicky these arguments now appear here.

UK: ITV’s public service commitments set to be reduced after controversial cost-benefit analysis by OFCOM, BBC licence fee to subsidise C4?

From The Guardian, 28 July, spotters fee to ALJ

ITV is likely to win its battle to reduce its public service commitments while the BBC may have to give part of its licence fee to Channel 4, according to a leaked blueprint prepared by the media regulator Ofcom. Under the proposals, ITV will be allowed to cut back on regional news, reduce its current affairs output and reduce programmes produced outside London, saving almost £40m a year.

The decision, following Ofcom research that suggests the costs of ITV’s public service status will outweigh the benefits by £60m by 2012, is likely to spark outrage from MPs and the broadcasting unions, who campaigned against the plans.

Ofcom is likely to suggest that the BBC’s “excess” licence fee money be diverted to other broadcasters for public service television from 2012, rejecting the corporation’s argument that its “unique link” with the public needs to be maintained.

The regulator also supports Channel 4’s argument for public subsidy, at a lower level than the broadcaster has suggested. Ofcom says that Channel 4 will need about £40m a year in the medium term rather than the £100m it has argued for.

Pentagon strategy to place former military officers in networks to be ‘surrogates’ for Bush administration

John Stauber, Center for Media & Democracy, debates with Robert Zelnick, Boston University on PBS NewsHour April 24 2008, New York Times report ‘Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand’ by David Barstow 20 April 2008. Major networks refuse to appear in PBS story.

NYT, following 2 year investigation, reports Pentagon’s use of former military officers and promotion of them to networks as analysts “in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the adminstration’s wartime performance”. Most analysts had business ties to defence contractors, though this is hardly ever disclosed. Pentagon systematically briefed the analysts, took them on tours and gave them access to classified intelligence. Kenneth Allard, former NBC military analyst, describes this as “a coherent, active policy”

NYT had to sue Defense Department to gain access to records of the briefings which “reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated”.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

Zelnick is happy with military officers acting as consultants or ‘beltway bandits’, sees it as ‘completely natural, completely to be expected and ‘ quotes history of previous Gulf War, says it is in networks’ interest, and in his interest as Washington correspondent to have those ties.

Stauber responds that the former military officers were “agents of the Defence Department”, and describes the strategy planned by Donald Rumsfeld and Torie Clark to recruit “75+ former military officers were recruited and they delivered the talking points of the bush administration to manage the news media coverage and public opinion of the war. Sees this as “illegal government propaganda”. Clark called this “information dominance”.