Tag Archives: FreeView

We Love Our Free TV

As part of the new FreeView campaign, the phrase “we love our free TV” is used. There isn’t much to love about free TV these days, especially where channel 9 is concerned but it never used to be this way. With 9 offereing more 20-1 than ever, I thought I’d make my own 20-1 list based on what we used to love about our free TV – mind you, 20 years ago, Free TV was the only option other than hiring movies on VHS video. Considering free TV is no longer the only option, I would have thought they would have improved as opposed to declined.

20. Adults Only was known as AO – a rating, not part of the title. 

19. Overnight you could watch news, music or old movies – no infomercials

18. Kids TV in the afternoon, sometimes till 5.30

17. There were no subscription mobile ads (and of course, no mobile phones, well at least not one smaller than a house brick)

16. Cartoons in the morning

15. Programs to watch between 9am and 11am other than talk morning shows

14. No trashy shows ever. Swearing was for the most part not allowed either (we all remember Kerry Packer ordering the Doug Mulray video show off back in the 90’s)

13. Stereo simulcasts on Fm radio for major movies like Star Wars (and I in fact connected extra speakers to my radio to make my own surround sound in 1986)

12. Timeslot changes and axings were rare and hardly ever happened the way it does now. Shows almost always remained on for their full season.

11. Reliable printed TV guides

10. The nightly current affairs shows once featured quality stories.

9. More Australian shows were on TV

8. Unmissable TV shows like Prisoner

7. Channel 9 news was the only news worth watching

6. Game shows were entertaining and watchable

5. Eddy McGuire was at home watching TV and noone knew who he was

4. 60 Minutes had hard hitting, quality stories

3. If a show was advertised as starting at 8.30, at worst, it would start at 8.31. Never 8.37 or later.

2. The first to TV Sunday night movie

1. Channel 9 always winning the ratings and known as “still the one”

And more: lets not forget those Demtel ads with the catch phrase “but wait … there’s more… ” and K-Tel selling vinyl record holders, and even records including Kamahl. And you might even get a set of free steak knives. There was still summer TV though.  But back then, way before email, mobile phones, SMS, my space, facebook and twitter, you would actually spend time with people and less time in front of the TV, your phone or computer.

FreeView in my View 4

So here comes the next round of Free View ads which will supposedly remind us of what we love about free to air TV. The same day we hear about channel 9’s new Tuesday night line up containing nothing but 2.5 Men, 20-1 and Underbelly, most of which are repeats. These Free view ads are a waste of time and no doubt take air space away from real advertisers selling real products.

Freeview are so delusional, that they call 7HD and 9HD separate channels. 9HD hardly has any break away programming and for the most part is the same as the main channel – so should not count, and 7HD is almost as bad but at least has more break away times.

And now the comment relating to more channels launching says within a year. We know channel 9 have announced their new channel, Ten is already doing ONE, SBS News has become SBS2, ABC has been given the go ahead for ABC3 (I knew thewy would) but channel 7 is still yet to announce anything.

Currently, I put the channel count at 8 – ABC, ABC2, Ten, One, 7, 9, SBS, SBS2. In regional area of northern NSW, it is 7 channels as there is no ONE yet. It will hopefully be on SC10 by July, about the same time it is rumoured Foxtel will get it for those who do not have cable. Go 99 and ABC3 will take it to 10 channels, and 7’s new channel when they announce it will be the 11th. And that will most likely be it, as I don’t see any of them then using the HD channel as a break away from the other 2 channels.

FreeView in My View 3

So there will be no FreeView EPG until the end of the year. Channel 9’s new channel will launch some time in August. ONE HD is already here for anyone who lives in the 5 capital cities. FreeView branded equipment will be on sale from May 1. And FreeView will launch more ads from April 26.

Exactly what do they hope to achieve with these ads? More confusion? More empty promises? Brand awareness? Confusing the already confused?

In my opinion, what really needs to happen is to have everything sorted out before they wast anymore time advertising and further confuse TV viewers Australia wide. Given that the EPG will not launch until the end of the year, how will the product work in any case? And there is still the cloud over the ad skipping capability on the FreeView branded PVR. I can understand why they would not want viewers to skip ads completely, so why not base the system on Foxtels’ IQ2 where you fast forward ads? If you see an ad that is interesting, you stop and take a look. Making people sit through ads when they are not watching live TV just won’t work. And being called FreeView will mean nothing.

Since the FreeView name was introduced late last year, saying “coming soon in 2009”, there has been little or no development to the system leading many to write it off as a pointless waste of time. This is now the stigma they are stuck with and will be very hard for them to work their way out of it. FreeView is seen as misleading and a series of empty promises. As I have written in other posts here, we will not see 15 unique Free to air channels any time soon.

Here’s what should happen now, in my opinion, if FreeView is going to revive itself:

1. Do not advertise at all until everything is in place for the product.

2. Set deadlines with manufacturers for FreeView branded equipment, and get them into the market place by a certain date.

3. Educate retailers about the system.

4. Deadline when the extra channels come. Ten has ONE HD already. 9’s 2nd channel is due in August, 7 is yet to announce, but should ideally do it about the same time as 9.

5. Get the EPG up in line with extra channels.

6. Include community TV (where available), and maybe even some of the channels in the 44 group in Sydney extending to other cities and areas – that gets more channels (Available frequencies may be an issue though).

7. Make sure that the regionals are on at the same time – unlike what happened with ONE HD, still yet to appear on SC10.

8. Publicise these dates in the media and on their web site. Keep the public informed. back up promises with actual content and detail. So far, one of the biggest problems with FreeView has been the lack of any actual content to back up their promises.

9. Any additonal services that will come with FreeView – such as on demand services – should be confirmed with launch dates as well during this time.

Once everything is in place, then will be the time to release FreeView as a complete system with 10 (say) channels including all other features it will have working rather than “coming soon”. That way, the consumer will know they are getting a complete product and not some expensive box with little or nothing over what they have now or can obtain much more cheaply.

7 Behind 8 Ball of 9 and 10

Added: April 14th: There’s a romour going round, as reported on Tv Tonight, that 9’s 2nd SD channel will be called Go!99. That’s not yet official. Time will tell. I liked the idea os something like E9, 9 Plus or 9 Extra as it keeps some branding with channel 9. And the regionals would just substitute the “9” with WIN or NBN. Whereas, with “99”, they have to do something else – such as “88”. Or how about “86” – then we could have 86 and 99 working together like in “Get Smart”. We await more information.

While updating now, there is still no word from ch 7 about their 2nd SD channel – which is basically what the article below is about.

I found this quote in an article on whatsonthetube.net and thought I’d share it:

“The Seven Network has had success with its new channel with chief executive David Leckie saying, “The HD channel is getting some advertisers and viewers and will break even this year, but it is not the main game. The main game is the new standard definition channel. That will be exciting.”

The remark is made in reference to 7HD, which was up and running since Mid October 2007. The article, published on whatsonthetube.net March 10, 2008,  was about 9HD’s launch mid March 2008, and makes comment about the fact that the 2nd SD channels were allowed to be on air from Jan 1, 2009, and that 2009 would be exciting for TV.

As I write this article, there is still no word yet of ch 7’s plans for its 2nd SD channel. As we all know, ONE HD and its SD counterpart start full time at 7.30 Thur March 26 (now adjusted to 7pm in Melbourne due to the change to the AFL coverage). So that is channel 10 sorted for now.

And earlier this week, ch 9 announced its plans for an entertainment channel even though details were somewhat vague to say the least – with no definite confirmation – or even indication – of a launch date other than some time in the 2nd half of the year.

That just leaves channel 7. Given Leckie’s comment one year ago, you would have thought channel 7 would have been the first to launch its 2nd SD channel. No doubt they are more cashed up than the other networks, being the number one rating network of 2008. Or, maybe ch 7 has decided there was no need to address having a 2nd SD channel for that reason – no need to do anything extra to stay number one. With poor programming generally on ch 9 and ch 10 aiming for the younger demographics and therefore not winning overall ratings, that leaves ch 7 1st every week. Perhaps it is ch 7 waiting to see what 9 does and what success ONE HD has before making any commitments.

But why wait for what the others do? Why not go out on your own like ch 10 has. Even 9’s idea sounds like a free to air version of a cross between FOX8 and TV1 (in their own words), but, even though vague, at least there is some indication.

Still, with all the time these networks have had to get their proverbials together as far as digital multi channeling goes and the time and money they have spent on the FreeView campaign, there is no reason why in March 2009 ONE HD should be the only new commercial extra digital channel. It just continues to be the viewers who lose out time after time and none of them seem to be making any effort in clearing up the digital confusion.

Someone should step in and simplify and unify the process for all of Australia. Set a date for all channels to be up and running – metro and regional – and, as for FreeView, clean up the mess they have created and give the viewers what they want.

Non Ratings – No Point

If you have seen the ratings reports for this week, you would notice there are alot of people watching TV at the moment having to settle for lower quality viewing, endless repeats and movies being played for there umpteenth time. The fact that a repeat episode of NCIS on Ten can grab 1.5 mil is testimony to how many viewers there are out there basically settling on what ever is on the small screen, even if a repeat. NCIS is very popular, new episodes do very well. Repeats of the show do better than repeats of Underbelly.

I still don’t get why we need to have so called non-ratings periods. There is still a daily report as to what everyone with people meters were watching, numbers are still counted, ads are still sold based on these numbers, only the viewer loses out by having second rate programming. I see no reason why ratings cannot continue all the time. Over summer and Easter.

The only beneficiaries out of this non-ratings madness is subscription TV and DVD rentals. And, of course, downloads as well. This week is not even school holidays (in NSW). 7 news on Monday night got 1.7 mil! Yet after 8.30, no one show could do better than about a million. All these people go somewhere, don’t they? And they are not going out – noone has the money for that now.

All that non-ratings is doing is turning people away from free to air TV and towards subscription TV, legal and illegal downloads and back to either hiring DVDs or watching ones they already own. At our place, free to air viewing has reduced to almost nothing other than the news and a few shows that have not gone off or into repeats such as Life on Mars and 60 minutes. Our usual Foxtel shows are still on, so those programs still fill up some time, but the gap left by absent free to air programs is filled by watching DVDs. I am sure this is a familiar scenario to some people.

 I seriously believe that this is a concept that needs to be reviewed, especially as more and more people turn away from free to air TV. With very fast internet coming within the next 10 years, free to air TV needs to re-invent iteself to continue to exist. Providing poor quality viewing, chopping and changing shows, having periods of time that they air even worse shows, and taking too long to get new shows on will kill them. No amount of extra channels under any name whether it be FreeView or otherwsie will help. Internet will be the future, and good on our government for moving on it.

Who Will Be the First with Three Channels?

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.

ONE HD Regional SC10 From July 2

*** Updated June 16 2009 ***

Regional television viewers can rejoice and finally join their capital city friends as regional affiliate of Network Ten Southern Cross Ten will begin transmission of 24 hour sports channel One HD from July 2. Viewers who already receive a high definition signal from the broadcaster in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT will start to see One HD from July 2 and can find the channel on Channel 50.

*** Updated June 1 2009 ***

An announcement as to when Southern Cross Ten will launch the 24-hour sports channel One HD is expected within a fortnight as the channel finalises testing.

Southern Cross Ten COO Greg Dodson has told the Canberra Times that final testing is underway and the slideshow is ready for the official launch, but when pushed for a date:

“While I can’t give a firm date, we are so close to getting that date and we reckon people in Canberra will be viewing One [HD] around the middle of year.”

Dodson did confirm though that a launch date will be announced in less than two weeks and that the broadcaster had spent more then $10million on the infrastructure that will make carrying the station possible.
 
Meanwhile, tomorrow sees the commencement of SBS TWO which will replace the SBS World News Channel.
During the day, SBS TWO will continue to carry news in languages other than English, while at night will carry a mixture of repeats and new programming.   Later this year SBS TWO will also carry coverage of both the Ashes cricket and Tour de France cycling.
 
Source: Media Spy

After looking around in various TV blogs and forums, there are examples of people who have actually bought HD set top boxes in regional areas thinking they will be able to receive ONE HD only to be let down when they discover it is not available to them.

Sure, they can do some searching on the internet, but like I always say, not everyone gets their TV information from the internet – and why should they. A number of issues comes out of this situation – here’s the list and some solutions.

1. ONE HD should be promoted only in the 5 cities it is being broadcast to. A disclaimer should be attached to any advertising for ONE HD specifying the areas it is available in.

2. The CH 10 Web site should do the same. Strictly speaking, the ch 10 website is for ch 10 itself, which is broadcast into the 5 TV capital cities, but they would surely be aware from their own forums and site membership that there are regional viewers there as well. One in forum contributor from Darwin said he spent $180 to buy an HD set top box hoping he would receive ONE HD and was disappointed when he couldn’t get it. Furthermore, Southern Cross Ten (SC10) does not have a TV web site (there is a website but its more of a corporate site as opposed to an entertainment site like the TV sites usually are) so regional fans of 10 shows use 10’s web site.

3. SC10 on their own web site, in a clearly visible location (like the home page) should have the ONE HD logo with clear commentary below it stating (words to the effect of): “ONE HD is coming to SC10 at a future date, possibly mid year. Until then ONE HD is NOT able to be seen on SC10’s HD or secondary SD channels until then. We are working as hard as we can to deliver this exciting new channel to you. Keep up to date and register your interest here… ” – you get the drift. It’d take me not even 5 minutes to set that up on a home page of any site – and it keeps your viewers informed rather than having them all over blogs and forums expressing their disgust or just asking how they can get the channel. Like anything in business, it all comes down to communication.

If you go to a shop after being lead to believe a product is in stock by advertising, and then get told once you are there that is is not in stock and there will be a 3 month wait until it comes in, then you will not be happy. If, however, you know beforehand that the product will not be in for 3 months, then you’ll wait. no problem. In fact, in the retail world, this is known as deceptive and misleading advertising and businesses can be heavily fined for that sort of behaviour.

Here in the world of TV, the viewers are the customer. They have been mislead. The situation is the TV version of  the example above. The only place I have read anything about ONE HD not coming to SC10  from its’ launch date is on TV Tonight. That’s it. A web site frequented by several thousand TV fans a day, bu tnot necessarily by sports fans looking to know what is happening with ONE in their area. Nothing on Ten’s web site, nothing about it on SC10’s, nothing in the papers. Unless you are on the net looking for this sort of information, the assumption would be that ONE HD should be on SC10 from day one. Furthermore, there have been a few misleading reports, one I spotted on Media Spy in January that ONE HD would be on SC10 from its March 26 launch.  

4. The FreeView web site should also inform its visitors where ONE HD is available.

As previously stated in earlier posts, a simple press release would solve the problem.

As it stands right now, all we know is that ONE HD will on SC10 “mid year”. Let’s hope so.

Future of TV

Its just a matter of time that the capacity of the internet both wireless and landline based will be able to cope with the demands of quality, live streaming TV channels. And I don’t mean the mobile phone type of video usually associated with internet based television. Already, throughout the internet, there are tens of thousands of television channels able to be viewed, not to mention millions of videos and shows able to be downloaded both legally and illegally.

But, for most computer users, downloaded or live streaming content can only be watched on their computer. So far there is not a great deal of products available to have your TV as part of the computer, and use the computer as the source of your entertainment. Apple has a product which gives connectivity between the computer and the TV, but they don’t seem to be readily available yet (in Australia) and there is little quality content in any case.

The lower quality videos with slow frame rates, fewer lines per screen are fine for the computer screen, but when you put them onto your larger lounge room TV, you quickly see the lack of quality. However, this is improving as the internet world wide gains more capacity and speed allowing near broadcast videos to be seen in real time.

In the past few years especially, we have seen the proliferation of broadband internet plans both mobile and land line based at very affordable prices. While Australia is behind Europe and other parts of the world in this regard, it is easy to pick up a 5Gig per month mobile internet plan at say $40 per month. And providers like TPG offer 50Gigs! Thats about 75 DVD quality movies that could be downloaded each month – which by extrapolation, I would assume enough bandwidth to stream about 150 hours of broadcast quality standard definition TV per month.

As internet capacity increases, the monthly download size will increase and the possibility of broadcast quality TV being sent through the internet will become reality. In my opinion, I see this as the future of TV, and in the extreme long term, the way TV will be delivered to many households. Once the infrastructure is in place for the internet to handle this sort of data, it will actually be cheaper and more environmentally responsible for television broadcasters to start broadcasting TV direct to the internet as the need for transmitters chewing up hundreds of thousands of watts of power will be not needed (well at least in urban areas where population density ensures the viability of infrastructure, and in regional areas or places where the land line based internet does not reach, mobile internet technology takes over providing a similar service).

Just around the corner are 1 and 2TB hard discs, SD cards holding up to 2TB (2000 gigs) of data and USB3 – which allows for a much faster transfer rate of about 10 times what USB2 offers. This is more than enough memory to hold millions of pictures, and thousands of hours of video. I imagine, that in the next few years, as people make use of large memory storage devices, the next logical step is to want all of your videos stored in HD format – which of course will take alot more memory to store – at least 4 times standard definition).

And if the internet keeps up, we’ll be sending HD quality videos through the internet. Both fixed and mobile. It will become common place. The next step after that, is UHD – Ultra high definition where you have 2160 x 3840 pixels instead of 1080 x 1920 – again more memory needed and bandwidth to transmit. Of course, you’re not going to notice the difference between HD and UHD unless you have a very large TV!

So while Australian TV still struggles to come to terms with multi channeling, HD content and being relevant in todays’ society, their days will be numbered unless they start adapting and getting involved in the internet. I remember hearing last year that ABC USA was now streaming on the internet. Unless you cheat, you can only receive it in the US, but still – this is where the future is. Broadcasting on the internet will not only reach more viewers but will bring the networks back to keeping up with technology. As it is, the digital standard we are using in Australia is 15 years out of date, and will have to be upgraded within the next few years – the FreeView brand will already be compatible with this new standard as part of being future proof.

The way TV is going in Australia, the internet will take over as it is developing at 10 times the rate of domestic entertainment technology. Computers and internet are taking over everywhere, and the loungeroom TV is the next step. I just hope there are some inexpensive products to provide the connectivity between the two.

In 50 years time, provided the internet is not abused or polluted by uncontrollable spam or viruses, the internet will be part of everything we use ranging from radio, phone calls, all mobile communications, TV and pretty well any kind of communication you can think of. Traditional radio transmissions will be phased out and the bandwidth they free up in the electromagnetic spectrum will be freed up for the internet to use for wireless internet.

(Above commetary is my own opinions and thoughts based on material I have read or seen from various sources and references to specific details such as capacity, memory or any other detail is of the top of my head and for the sake of discussion only as opposed to presenting any specific facts).

FreeView in My View 2

An article in Melbourne’s Herald Sun the other day suggested that LCD and Plasma TVs would be out of date as of May 1 when FreeView starts. On FreeViews’ own web site which, at the time of writing my previous article about FreeView last week stated, that there was no guarantee that all services and channels offered by FreeView would be able to be seen on equipment not branded as FreeView.

Now it says, and possibly as a result of the article: “If you already have an HD integrated TV …. FreeView will automatically become available to you…”.

To anyone who knows anything about Digital TV, that is obviously true and has always been true. And for the majority who don’t, it was very misleading.

As for the Herald Sun, the article refers to the fact that FreeView equipment will be MPEG-4 compliant, which the broadcasters will begin using at a date in the future, my guess would be 2013 when analogue is fully off and the bandwidth freed up could be used to transmit the old and the new signal at once like they are doing with their digital and analogue signals currently. I imagine, with the technology in most HD TVs now, it may be a matter of updating their firmware, but that time will tell.

Our big TVs will continue to work for some time yet, receiving all digital channels broadcasted. Lets hope FreeViews’ new marketing team will make sure that clearing up the confusion is first on their to-do-list. Changing that comment I refer to on their web site is at least a step in the right direction.

Freeview in my View

So Freeview promises to deliver 15 channels virtually for free, or at least without a subscription. Freeview will be offering a hard disk recorder allowing you to record 2 HD channels at once and watch another. But, according to the news so far I have read about FreeView, you will not be able to skip the ads! Honestly, what is the point of a hard disk recorder (PVR) if you cannot skip ads on commercial network shows? Since the early 80’s, if I have watched a show recorded from commercial TV, I fast forward the ads. If the FreeView box does not allow fast forwarding the ads, then who’s going to want it? This is one point that needs clarification. So far, FreeView is nothing more than an ad on TV, a fancy website that tells you little and a hot topic on TV blogs everywhere.

Its easy to see where the figure of 15 channels comes from – each of the 5 free to air networks now have the license to broadcast 1 HD channel and 2 SD channels, all 3 of which can have unique programming. 3 x 5 = 15 – easy! In fact, currently, each free to air broadcaster can actually broadcast up to 4 SD channels and 1 HD channel. Ch 7, Prime, ABC and SBS already do that, its just that all the additional channels are simulcasts, and licensing only allows 1 HD and 2 SD channels. 9 and 10 broadcast 1 HD and 2 SD channels – again – most the time they are simulcasts. And when analogue switches off completely in 2013, the extra bandwidth available means they should be able to offer even more channels or at least be able to offer say 3 HD channels. Time will tell on that one.

But the reality is somewhat different. To any normal person, the interpretation of 15 channels means 15 unique channels each containing different content for most of the day. It makes one believe that on each free to air network there will be an HD channel, and 2 SD channels broadcasting different content some time in 2009 when FreeView takes off.

Apart from the ABC which has plans for ABC3 (if funding is approved), it is extremely unlikely we’ll see any network provide 3 unique channels at once in the near future. Why would they? During the nightly prime time ratings dog fight, most shows are able to be seen in HD – as they should be for those of us with HD TVs. And for those who do not have access to HD, the same show has to be shown on an SD channel. And for those not yet on digital, it also has to appear on analogue. That leaves only the 2nd SD channel left to offer alternative programming. Then it is likely that the 2nd SD alternative would be programmed in such a way not to detract from the main programme being screened – by showing repeats or niche programming. Therefore, the result would be only 2 shows on at once on any free to air network.

We can already see an example of this: Ch 10, ONE HD and ONE SD. Even the FreeView web site lists ONE and ONE HD as separate channels. As ONE SD is nothing more than the SD simulcast of ONE HD, it cannot count as a separate channel. The reason is obvious – if you have an HD TV, you’d be watching ONE HD and never ONE SD. If you do not have an HD TV, you’d be watching ONE SD and cannot get ONE HD. ONE channel broadcasted over 2. This limits channel 10 to 2 channels, not 3. So straight away, the 15 channels FreeView promises begins to fall apart.

And then there’s the question of what 7 and 9 will do.Yes, at some stage, they’ll launch their 2nd SD channel, but the HD channel will still show prime time in HD and may possibly offer further unique programming late night as they already do. It would not surprise me, though, if alternative HD viewing disappears altogether, with the shows that used to be there seen on 2nd SD channel, and maybe some of those shown on HD at the same time – resulting in an HD channel showing content form both the main channel and the 2nd SD channel from time to time.

 Therefore the number of unique channels would work out as:

Ch 10 and ONE HD / ONE SD simulcast – 2 channels

Ch 9 SD and 9 SD2 with HD simulcasting 9 SD most of the time – 2 channels

Ch 7 SD and 7 SD2 with HD simulcasting 7 SD most of the time – 2 channels

ABC1, ABC2, ABC3 (let’s assume it goes ahead) – 3 channels (assuming ABC HD is ABC1 simulcast in HD)

SBS and SBS news (assuming SBS HD remains simulcast of SBS) – 2 channels

Total: 11 channels. Not 15.

In my opinion, this is extremely misleading and the claim of 15 channels should be reworded. I note now on the FreeView web site it says “up to 15 channels”. To me, the whole FreeView campaign is pointless and a waste of money – and why have it as a brand and a separate PVR? While I am a great advocate of extra channels, I don’t think it should the main priority. In the US, the focus is on HD content as opposed to extra channels each free to air network offers. All the major shows in the US are HD, and the daily and nightly talk shows make a big deal about being in HD. Here, there’s little emphasis on HD at all. While multi-channeling and FreeView seems to work well in the UK, lets keep in mind over there the population is 4 times larger than Australia, in a space smaller than one of our states – so its alot more viable.

I think the focus over the next few years should be digital take up overall without fancy brands and campaigns like FreeView. We should be making sure that all households have digital TV prior to the switch off in 2013 and legislating that all TVs must be sold with a digital tuner – like they have been doing in the US prior to their switch off in June. Until we are forced to buy only digital TVs there will never be adequate digital TV take up in Australia to warrant the networks bothering with alternative viewing knowing full well such viewing cannot be seen by all viewers. Then again, if consumers knew there was additional free content on digital television, they might switch  over. Bit of a catch 22.

Again, the lack of information offered about multi-channeling from the networks (other than 10) can only draw one to the conclusions above. We don’t know when 7 and 9 will start their 2nd SD channel and we don’t know if they will offer alternative HD viewing on top of that. Until some facts come out, the 15 channels of FreeView is really only 10 or 11.

And you can get these channels on ANY digital HD TV regardless of brand. Any set top box that can decode a HD channel will receive ALL digital channels. You do not need FreeView for this, regardless of what they say. FreeView is nothing more than a hard disk recorder with a twin HD tuner, like Tivo and many others you can buy off the shelf. Only difference would be how they interact with electronic program guides. Another subject for another time!