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Aussie plays ping pong with pay TV.

Down Under has no pay TV system, but it has a mandate for the use of digital compression technology for pay TV. Plus it awarded Optus (formerly Aussat) a monopoly on satellite delivered pay TV until 1997. This mandate effectively pushes a pay TV inception date to 1995 and is in direct conflict with Australian Broadcasting Authority's (ABA) intention to maintain technology neutrality.

During the past several months pay TV in Australia reared its head again in the form of MMDS (microwave multi point distribution system) only to be shot down by a Government bending to pressure from what some Australian journalists described as "media mates."

The result of these anitcs? Consumers who have been robbed of their freedom of choice, frustrated MMDS operators and frustrated investors like the Times Mirror who may reconsider their involvement in Australia altogether.

The person who stands to lose the most from the pay TV delay is Steve Cosser, also the force behind the only operating MMDS ready for pay service in Australia Newsvision. Cosser, 37, is an aggressive entrepreneur, until recently a managing director of the Ten Network.

"I had to fight it," said Cosser in response to the Government's attempt to dictate technology. "It" refers to a series of actions by the Government that invited participation in MMDS technology then halted it four months later after considerable investments had been made. This is where things got interesting:

The Minister for Transport and Communications, Bob Collins, stated in November of 1992: "It is important to note there will be no restriction on the use of other technologies to deliver pay TV such as cable or microwave."

Invitations to apply for MMDS licenses followed Collins' announced intention to eliminate the delay in the delivery of satellite pay services by opening the market up to MMDS and other operators.

Many viewed this move as positive and in the interest of the public, but others began to fear that MMDS operators would corner the market before satellite services arrived.

But one day before the closing date for MMDS license tenders, Bob Collins announced a drastic policy reversal with a directive for the ABA to refuse any MMDS tender.

His reasons? MMDS is an inferior technology and the economic viability of satellite delivered service was going, to be undermined.

In response Cosser launched a media blitz painting the Government as group of liars and preferential wimps. He has received flak and threats of slander suits for some of the advertisements, but he is effectively raising public awareness. He even has a 24 hour MMDS consumers' hotline which answers questions about pay TV and MMDS.

The debate for now is focusing on the broadcast quality of MMDS with allegations of technical deficiencies purported by Cosser's potential competitors.

"The fact is," said Cosser, "that MMDS works and is available now!" In fact, in operation is Cosser's 24 hour packaged news channel, Newsvision, which is distributed via MMDS in Sydney. The channel serves as a pilot for Cosser's MMDS pay TV battle.

Newsvision brings together news programming from the US, UK, Germany, New Zealand and Australia, then re-broadcasts it to its DBS (satellite) and MMDS clients across Australia. Newsvision operates as a narrowcaster and may be running advertising in the future.

If Cosser is eventually allowed to proceed with MMDS it is generally acknowledged that it will be an interim delivery system until fiber optic cable is laid by Australia's Telecom. Industry estimates put fiber optic at eight to 15 years away. Many options are available in integrating several delivery systems together and introducing cable progressively, but all remains to be seen.

John R. Paul is the son of late Sol J. Paul, Publisher TV/Radio Age. He currently resides in Sydney, Australia, where he works for Australis Media as the National Account Manager for Newsvision.
COPYRIGHT 1993 TV Trade Media, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Paul, John R.
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:636
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