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Is Free To Air TV In Trouble As Streaming Takes Over?

Fresh evidence has emerged that indicates free to air TV networks who to rely on commercials is under threat as demand for paid streaming services surpasses free-to-air television in Australia with some now calling for a change to media policy and anti-siphoning sports regulations.

The research commissioned by the federal Department of Communications and conducted by the Social Research Centre, found that 62 per cent of Australian adults reported watching screen content on an online subscription service in 2021 (up from 60 per cent in 2020), while 58 per cent said they viewed linear commercial free-to-air television at some point in 2021 (down from 61 per cent in the previous year).

It is the first time a survey of this magnitude has found that more Australians watch online subscription services than linear commercial free-to-air television according to News Corp publications.

There was also a decrease in viewership in 2021 of publicly owned free-to-air television (excluding catch-up TV), dipping to 50 per cent from 53 per cent in 2020. Nearly three in five respondents (56 per cent) used free video streaming services such as YouTube, Twitch or Tubi.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the rise in popularity of streaming services was continuing to shake up the media industry.

“As this survey shows, we are seeing continuing and significant shifts in the way that Australians consume screen content, with the take-up of online and on-demand platforms … growing strongly,” he told The Australian.

“These trends have important implications for media policy and regulation. Such regulation should be platform-neutral as far as possible, including in relation to such issues as local content requirements.”

Alison Hurbert-Burns, executive director of streaming service Binge (part of the Foxtel Group), said the survey reflected a continuing shift in viewer behaviour.


“You’ve got these consumer trends that have been happening for a while now, this is not the first chapter of online video and streaming. These are trends that have been building but I think we’re now at the tipping point of trends becoming preferences,” Ms Hurbert-Burns said.

“Covid has fast-tracked the bedding down of this behaviour because you’ve had captive audiences with restrictions, so you’re probably seeing Australia catch up to the realities of what’s already happening overseas.

“The convenience of watching what you want when you want it – they’re long-term behavioural shifts that I would argue aren’t going anywhere.”

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