By Tim Kroenert

The announcement late last year of a new collaboration between ABC TV and Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) marked another milestone along the steep rise of internet television (IPTV) in Australia.

As of November 24 last year, Playstation 3 users have been able to access the ABC iView online TV service optimised for their TV screen via the Playstation Network.

This development was coupled with a more user-friendly redesign of ABC iView.

The initiative reaped immediate success. During the first week alone, PS3 delivered almost one-third of all the visits to the ABC iView site, while total site visits jumped from 263,000 to 318,000 in one week.

But while ABC director of television Kim Dalton described the partnership as “only the start of a period of intense growth” across platforms, not everyone shares his keenness about the rapid growth of IPTV.

Free TV Australia boss Julie Flynn is worried that the lack of regulation for IPTV may create an uneven playing field that would disadvantage free and pay TV services.

“The world is changing and people are accessing content in a variety of ways,” Flynn tells INSIDEFILM.

“I think it’s a challenge for all governments, not just ours, to keep the regulation up with the changes in technology.”

Flynn is particularly concerned about the lack of detailed classification systems, Australian content rules, closed captioning, and other forms of regulation that to her mind seem to put free-to-air television at a disadvantage to other, newer platforms.

“We continue to be the most heavily regulated medium in the country,” she says.

“Much more heavily regulated than pay TV or the internet. We have a Broadcasting Services Act that was written in 1992, prior to the introduction of pay TV in this country, and prior to the widespread use of the internet as we know it today.

“The government has indicated it’s looking at a review in 2011,” she adds. “We welcome this decision, because we think it’s well overdue. There is a risk that change will race ahead of the review, but it is up to the government to set the timetable, and I think the minster is well-focused on these issues.”

Foxtel head of policy, Adam Suckling, has his doubts about the need for stricter regulation of IPTV.

Suckling notes that the regulation of the free-TV networks counterbalances significant protections “such as gifted spectrum, a prohibition on new free-to-air competitors and the longest anti-siphoning list in the world.”

“We do not support keeping the protections for the old networks or extending their Australian content quotas to new platforms,” Suckling says.

The implementation of Foxtel Next Generation in October last year made significant inroads into the internet environment, with the launch of the Foxtel Download online television service.

“The Government should kick off a comprehensive review of all media policy settings,” Suckling says.

“The review needs to put the consumer front and centre and aim to remove the long raft of protections of the old networks.

“Inside of this review, we need to look hard at whether in a digital age keeping Australian content quotas in place is the best way of getting Australian stories across multiple platforms. Other mechanisms such as funding Australian content from the digital dividend may be more effective.

“The solution is certainly not to pick up analogue-era content regulation and impose it on new players, while ignoring all the regulatory protections the old networks enjoy.”

Meanwhile, the free-to-air networks are not sitting back and letting change pass them by.

Seven Media Group plans to replace the media-on-demand section in the TIVO set-top box with CASPA on-demand broadband portal containing 1000 hours of movies, TV programs and music videos.

Flynn also points to the FreeView digital free-to-air marketing campaign, and to the past achievements of the free-to-air networks online: Nine Network’s, as well as the ‘virtuous circles’ (“TV drives the viewer to the internet, which drives them back to the TV”) established by Network Ten’s reality TV programs.

“The key thing for broadcasters is to keep providing programming that people want to watch, and providing them with more choice via the new services,” she says.

“We have to continue to deliver quality Australian content on our main channels.

“But if you’ve got to compete with programming out there that’s not subject to the same level of regulation, then you’re at a disadvantage.”