Sky News chief seeks free-to-air slot

Sky News Australia chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos is pushing for a slot on free-to-air television in a move that would put the News Corporation-backed service in direct competition with the ABC’s News 24 channel.

It is understood Mr Frangopoulos raised the prospect of Sky becoming a free-to-air channel at a Sky board meeting on Tuesday. Broadcast on pay television operator Foxtel, Sky is owned by Nine Entertainment Co, Kerry Stokes’s Seven West Media and British Sky Broadcasting, controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Sources close to the Sky board said the “idea” to broadcast Sky on free-to-air television would face opposition from Nine and Seven. They stressed it was “mostly a commerical discussion” but the proposal comes at a politically sensitive time for the public broadcaster.

News Corp has been a vocal opponent of the ABC with both sides clashing over the tender for international diplomatic service, the Australia Network.

News Corp is particularly critical of ABC News 24, which was launched in July 2010. The ABC has been panned by Abbott government ministers over it coverage of unproven abuse allegations by asylum seekers.

It is understood the proposal to broadcast Sky on free-to-air has been aired with the federal government. The pay-TV lobby group ASTRA – which is chaired by Business Council of Australia chairman Tony Shepherd – held its annual drinks at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday night.

Attendees were given copies of the second series of political drama, House of Cards, which is broadcast on Foxtel.

“We are always looking at new opportunities for the [Sky[ business but we are clearly a subscription business and any changes to that would have to carefully thought through,” said Mr Frangopoulos, who attended the ASTRA event.

Even if Seven or Nine were to be supportive, any move to broadcast Sky on free-to-air TV would be complicated.

Sky generates most of its revenue from Foxtel, which would be less inclined to pay if the service was widely available.

A broadcast platform would need to be found although sources close to the Sky board said the news service could be broadcast through a datacasting channel or changes to spectrum allocation which could require regulatory approval.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had not been consulted about the proposal but added: “They [Sky News] are free to put forward that proposal if they wish to.” Broadcasting Sky on a datacasting channel would require government approval.

The commercial free-to-air networks could create a fourth digital channel but it is unlikely Nine or Seven would agree to the other broadcasting a news service.

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