Laws catching up to smart TV technology

New laws could soon require smart TVs to display Australian free-to-air television and catch up services.

Late last year the Australian Government introduced amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, requiring connected televisions to make local TV easier to find and access.

senate committee is considering the changes, with public hearings underway from 23 February. 

Associate Professor Ramon Lobato researches television audiences and industries at RMIT University. He says ensuring public broadcasters like ABC and SBS are sufficiently visible on smart, or internet-connected TV home screens is a “really important public policy issue”.

“Australians pay money through taxes for good public service broadcasting content. And it’s really important that we’re able to find that easily when we turn on our TVs”.

Lobato’s research shows more than two-thirds of Australian households already own a smart, or connected TV capable of streaming online content. 

Many of these devices give prominence to large US-based streaming services, over local broadcasters. 

That’s because commercial arrangements between TV manufacturers and streaming platforms result in services like Netflix or Disney Plus having their own button built in to the TV remote, and made easily accessible via shortcuts on the television’s home screen.   

The effect of these defaults and shortcuts is to nudge viewers towards streaming services and away from local broadcast channels, Lobato says.  

“Our research has looked at the relative visibility and accessibility of local content on smart TVs as compared to content offered by major US streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus,” Lobato says. 

In contrast, local content is generally “less visible, less prominent”.

“When you buy a smart TV and bring it home, it’s much less likely to have the full range of ABC iView, SBS On-demand, 9now, 10 play, 7 plus. [But] it’ll come with a full with almost all of the big US streaming services pre-installed.”

That’s a problem because about a third of people never download those local apps onto their TV, Lobato says.

The government’s proposed ‘prominence framework’ means smart TVs would be required to pre-install Australian broadcaster video-on-demand apps, making these easier and more accessible for consumers to find. 

Lobato features in the new series of ‘Debunks’ about the science of screens. He joins our second episode on streaming and smart TVs, where Cosmos journalist Jacinta Bowler investigates how these new technologies are changing our viewing habits and whether our smart TVs might be getting just a little too smart?

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