Entertainment TV A free-to-air TV revolution is coming
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A free-to-air TV revolution is coming

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No doubts about it; video on demand is a hot topic.

As we approach the inaugural Multi-Screen TV Summit – an event gathering Australia’s video on demand leaders and multi-platform TV content producers – speculation about the future of TV refuses to die down.

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While various Australians are busy freaking out about the will they-won’t they launch of Netflix Australia, the companies currently offering video on demand (VOD) services – such as Quickflix, Ezyflix, Foxtel (via Presto) et al – are continually innovating their services in a bid to snare a larger piece of the pie.

But while conversations have been focused on the big guns of paid TV services, the innovation of free-to-air services in Australia has been quietly picking up steam.

“FreeviewPlus is a world first,” says Liz Ross, general manager of Freeview.

“It has come out of the members, the free-to-air TV networks, which have banded together to develop a shared platform to deliver free-to-air content.”

binge watching TV
The way we watch TV is rapidly evolving. Photo: Shutterstock

We know what you’re thinking

We know what you’re thinking, and no, we won’t be the first guinea pigs to test this new platform. It’s actually seen implementation in Europe.

“The first version launched in Germany,” says Ms Ross.

“The second version will launch in Australia; FreeviewPlus. The next version will have second screen integration; you’ll be able to control your TV’s content with a second screen, like a tablet.”

But unlike the switch-off of analogue TV, traditional free-to-air TV, now digitally delivered, will remain accessible via the usual terrestrial broadcasts.

A piece of cake

FreeviewPlus will require a TV with the necessary integration – either built in or as a standalone unit. Using it will be a piece of cake.

“There are no apps to fire up; no complex smart TV interface to deal with,” says Ross.

“Just press the red button on your remote to get the HDTV service, or the green button for the FreeviewPlus service, including catch-up TV.”

The choice of playback definition – a subject some VOD providers preferred wasn’t spoken about – is also handled by the FreeviewPlus system, ensuring viewers get the best possible quality of TV for their situation.

“The quality depends on your broadband connection and your TV,” says Ross.

“If you have a good smart TV with a good broadband connection (minimum ADSL2), adaptive streaming means you’ll get the best possible definition.”

freeview
Just some of the channels available on Freeview. Photo: Supplied

So what’s on offer

Services like the ABC’s iView, SBS On Demand and even Ten Play, have gone a long way to give viewers access to catch-up TV, across a variety of platforms, as well as the ability to watch content when they want, in the manner they want.

FreeviewPlus appears to provide this service alongside regular broadcasts, plus a lot more, in as simple a way as possible.

But the argument could be made that free-to-air’s move into broadband streaming and VOD is too little, too late.

After all, the major players in Australia’s streaming content industry are continually taking steps in their respective master plans.

Foxtel recently reduced the cost of its movies on demand service, Presto, from $19.99 per month to $9.99, in a move which can only be assumed as a pre-emptive strike against Australia’s other streaming content providers. Chinese military general Sun Tzu would be proud.

Considering this price drop comes less than six months after the service launched, one could speculate the VOD market is moving faster than Foxtel’s product developers ever anticipated.

But despite these strong offences, don’t expect the free-to-air platform to go quietly into the night.

At the end of the day, Ross’ objective is simple: “For the platform of free-to-air TV to be the dominant platform across broadband, mobile and traditional TV viewing devices.”

The Multi-Screen TV Summit is held 21 to 22 August, at the Pullman Quay Grand, Sydney Harbour. For more info log onto www.informa.com.au/MultiScreenTV

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