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21 November, 2014
10:13 AM

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Emerging media & communications trends: observations on regulation

By Editor

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Australians are finding ways to communicate anywhere, anyhow and anytime—combining different networks, devices and services.

At the forefront of this change are six emerging trends that are disrupting the media and communications environment. These trends may have long-term implications for regulation in the sector, according to new ACMA research.

 

Building on the ACMA’s Broken concepts paper, Six emerging trends in media and communications looks at changes in the media and communications environment that might put pressure on existing regulatory settings. In many areas, traditional regulation—designed to manage content and communications services delivered by network owners over dedicated networks and devices—is being overtaken by technology.

These emerging trends suggest there are new ways to understand and achieve reliable communications across Australia.

Our infographic, Left to our own devices, provides a visual snapshot of some of these trends.

Trend 1—communications goes OTT

Consumers are increasingly using services delivered ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) of the communications network—for example, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) and OTT mobile messaging applications like WhatsApp. Globally, the volume of OTT mobile messages sent has overtaken SMS traffic. In Australia, the number of VoIP users has grown to reach nearly half the number of fixed line telephone services.

Some observations on existing regulation

Historically, telecommunications regulation has covered voice communications delivered over the copper network, but this now represents a declining set of communications services. Expanding take-up and use of OTT services suggests it is timely to look again at how existing regulation might align with OTT consumer use and behaviour.

Trend 2—consumers build their own communications links

Rather than relying on devices such as phones and computers that are closely associated with specific networks or applications, we can mix and match devices, networks and services. If one way of communicating is not working, we can often just choose a different option.

Some observations on existing regulation

Instead of using regulation to ensure there is one—exceptionally robust—communications channel for everyone, in this environment a consumer often has multiple pathways to achieve a reliable network and service connection. 

Trend 3—wearable devices: personalised data arrives

Growing numbers of internet-accessible devices allow users to track their activities—for example, wearable devices collect a broad range of continuous observed data, including biometric, location and communications information. 

Some observations on existing regulation

Wearable devices may provide new avenues to deliver important consumer and market outcomes. For example, there is the potential for devices to automatically contact emergency services and instantaneously transmit detailed health and situational information. There is a concurrent growing interest in privacy and security management as increasing amounts of personal data are generated by these devices.

Trend 4—flexible TV: online expands consumer options

Broadcast television viewing retains its hold on Australian audiences, but OTT video content (including catch-up television) is now a commonly used complementary platform. Half of online Australians watched some form of internet television within a six-month period.

Some observations on existing regulation

In some cases, this means the same content, delivered by the same content producer, is regulated differently depending on the distribution network used. This inconsistency is expected to become even more pronounced as the take-up and availability of online video services increases in Australia.

Trend 5—multi-screening is mainstream

The television screen remains key to the Australian household entertainment experience. Consumers are increasingly using second (and even third screens) when they watch TV. About three-quarters of online Australians watch television and look at the internet simultaneously.

Some observations on existing regulation

Broadcast television programs and supporting online content will potentially merge into one entertainment offering in the future. However, changing content production models that deliver interrelated content over multiple platforms and services were not envisaged within the current regulatory framework. This may create a variety of pressures to recognise changing and diverse community expectations of content protections within existing regulation.

Trend 6—TV still main news source even as platforms shift

Broadcast television remains the main source of news, including for Australians accessing news online. Consistent with overseas trends, consumption of newspapers is declining in Australia—but at the same time we’re consuming a more interactive and dispersed set of news sources.

Some observations on existing regulation

The availability of news sources across a wide range of services, platforms and devices makes it increasingly difficult to measure online content consumption activities. The accurate measurement of online news, and content consumption more generally, is undergoing considerable innovation. This will be a key input into understanding the ongoing relevance of broadcast regulation, including important measures of media diversity and media influence.

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