The Federal Government’s Department of Communications has refused to release details about a $30 million gift to Foxtel, ostensibly to support underrepresented sports. These sports include women’s sports, niche sports and those with a high level of community participation (?). The ABC filed a Freedom of Information request seeking correspondence between Foxtel and the department, but the request was declined on the basis that no such documents existed1.
Journalist Stephen Mayne suggested that this gift was to keep the Murdoch dynasty onside because free-to-air television licence fees have just been waived in an attempt to resuscitate free-to-air2, and the Murdochs were not happy. Mayne is of the opinion that the stated reasoning behind the gift was an afterthought1. If it was genuinely the reason, the money should have gone to a broadcaster with a greater reach than Foxtel, which currently has about 2.8 million subscribers, having lost 100,000 subscribers in the second half of last year alone. Foxtel is rapidly being superseded by video streaming services such as Netflix, Stan and others3,4. Foxtel and Seven West Media launched the streaming service Presto, but it was shut down early this year because of poor uptake by subscribers.
While free-to-air commercial television may be on life support, subscription television is also in dire straits, being replaced by streaming services. Therefore, a better target for a gift of $30 million would be free-to-air (including the ABC), where women’s sport is already relatively ‘well’ represented. It will be interesting to see if there is any increase in the broadcasting of women’s sport on Foxtel pursuant to this windfall. This should be easily determined if there were terms and conditions, but there don’t seem to be any. Communications Minister, Senator Fifield, has not released any, and in senate estimates hearings in May, simply stated that the decisions had been made ‘as part of the budget process’5. Surely the government wouldn’t simply give away $30 million to one of their mates just on the strength of a phonecall or two, would it?