FreeView promises 15 channels based on each free to air broadcaster being allowed to air 2 standard definition (SD) channels and 1 high definition (HD) channel. As it stands now, ABC has two unique SD channels – ABC1 and ABC2, with ABC HD yet to offer anything but a simulcast of ABC1. Same story with SBS, with SBS1 and SBS2 (this is what SBS news will become). Over at ch10, they now have Ten and ONE HD, with the 2nd SD channel airing the SD simulcast of ONE HD. That make ch10 the first commercial to offer a 2nd SD channel as well as the HD channel being different 24 hours a day. But, in all of these cases, its still only 2 channels.
So who will be the first to have a 3rd? Ch 9 has indicated that August is a likely date for the launch of their 2nd SD channel (which will not be called 9 GOLD!). When this channel starts, if 9 offered alternative HD programming at any time, and the 2 SD channels were also airing different programs, then that would put 9 as the first to offer 3 different programs at any given time. I personally do not see this happening. It is more likely that the HD breakaway programs would end up on 9SD2 (in the absence of a real name, I’ll keep on calling it 9SD2), and that 9HD would simulcast 9′s main channel especially as more and more of their prime time programs become available in HD.
Ten has made mention of a 3rd channel as well, but I suggest the outcome there would be subject to the success of ONE HD. If the sports genre is very successful for 10, you may see the channel currently known as OND SD broadcast a combination of sports and other shows. Some people think that 10 may opt for a music channel or something more youth oriented to capture a different part of the market. Whether ONE stays as a full time HD channel will depend on its ratings and HD TV penetration into the market.
Despite David Leckie of ch 7 over a year ago indicating that maulti channeling would be exciting, has yet to announce what ch 7 are doing as far as multi channeling is concerned. Ch 7 has offered more break away HD programming than any other channel (prior to ONE HD) but have (surprisingly) used it to show repeats of their own shows, whether in HD or not, and to show old black and white movies during the day not even in wide screen, let alone HD!
Only the ABC has real plans for a 3rd channel – ABC3 which is subject to funding at the next federal budget. There is also rumoured to be an ABC4 news channel on the cards, but unless they cut back the qulaity of the HD channel, it is difficult to see how 4 channels will fit in without being very low quality. I am of the understandting that they can, but quality is the concern.
I believe the focus should be on quality and not the number of channels. While the idea of having extra channels is great for variety and choice, it should not be what its all about. Now that everyone is buying large screen TVs, the HD channel should be the focus as the main channel. This is what they do in the US, and they promote all the shows as being in HD. Any show on the main channel that is available in HD, should be shown in HD on the HD channel. And when there are shows on the main channel not available in HD (like old repeats), only then should the HD channel do anything different to the main channel as well as the 2nd SD channel.
Alternative HD viewing should only occur if the programs on the main channel are not available in HD. Alternative HD viewing should be HD content. Not 1940′s movies or old repeats. Recent movies and documentaries are one idea. I have an HD TV and would much prefer having everything in HD than to have 3 different channels just for the sake of being able to say there are 3 channels. Already when I watch ch 10, I miss having the option of viewing in HD. And, yes, I can tell the difference on my TV! I used to hate some late night shows on 7 not being in HD due to 7HD being the breakaway channel. One example is 30 Rock – which doesn’t really have to be HD, but in HD it looks much better.
Which gets me back to FreeView. As I mentioned time and time again, the promotion of 15 channels is misleading. You can read more about that in other posts or by clicking FreeView in the tag cloud.