Will Freeview Save You Any Money?

Freeview.jpg Freeview Australia has been heavily promoting itself, but will it really make a difference to your television viewing habits? And more importantly (for Loaded's purposes), will it save you a bucketload of money as the name implies?

Right now, the US is going into convulsions over its rollout of digital television, with a failed attempt to move the changeover from February to June. That's no surprise -- having a single national switchover date was always going to be a major challenge in technical and audience awareness terms. Australia is more sensibly managing its switch to digital TV conversion in stages, and the final cutoff won't be until 2013 at the earliest, but there's still the need to make audiences aware that they'll need new equipment.

That was one of the key motivations behind the establishment of Freeview Australia, a consortium of pretty much all Australia's commercial and government-backed free-to-air television networks, in July last year. To date, Freeview's main activity has been an "awareness campaign" (ie, a bucketload of ads on TV) with the purpose of promoting a "Freeview box" -- a digital TV set-top box that will offer a "suite of 15 channels" at no cost beyond the initial purchase of the box when it's released later in 2009.

This is a model taken pretty much wholesale from the UK, which is well into the process of transitioning to digital TV, having begun in 2007. Offering extra channels, rather than just boasting about improved picture quality, proved a vital driver in encouraging people to invest in a digital TV set-top box.

The other key motivation for setting up Freeview is that, as of this year, Australian commercial networks are allowed to run an additional standard-definition digital channel alongside their main station. Previously, they could only offer an additional HD channel. (There was no such prohibition on government-funded stations). The 15 channels will comprise 10 SD channels (a pair from each main broadcaster) and 5 HD channels. Of course, there's likely to be considerable overlap across these channels, with repeats, delayed broadcasts and older shows padding out the schedule.

And despite the enthusiastic ad campaign, the free-to-air commercial stations aren't exactly rushing to get those free extra digital channels on the air. As we reported earlier this month, despite a three-year planning windows, the first new channels won't appear until April. Ten intends to offer an all-sport channel, ONE, but other details are sketchy.

So will this help your budget? If you don't already have digital TV equipment, you're going to need to buy a new TV, a set-top box, or a pay TV subscription to get it. An additional raft of channels might make a Foxtel or Austar subscription look a bit less tempting, especially if there's a well-managed electronic program guide attached to it.

On the other hand, it will only meaningfully expand your choices if (as in the UK) the extra channels start producing their own unique content -- and given Australia's audience size and the current advertising market, that seems a tad unlikely. Timeshift stations are useful, but not super-compelling.

For many Lifehacker readers, channel BitTorrent has already effectively taken over as the means of viewing TV. There are two problems there. One is that, of course, it's illegal. The other is that it can quickly chew through so much of your bandwidth that you end up on a much more expensive ISP plan. No matter what happens with the National Broadband Network, that situation's unlikely to change in the future -- and the closest version of "free as in beer" TV is likely to remain controlled by a handful of commercial networks, SBS and the ABC (whose excellent iView service is at least now unmetered on several ISPs).

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


Comments

    ""Freeview box" -- a digital TV set-top box that will offer a "suite of 15 channels" at no cost beyond the initial purchase of the box when it's released later in 2009."
    I believe you are mistaken freeview is the extra channels from the existing stations not a separate special box. All you need is a HD digital tuner be it a set top box, PVR or digital TV. There will be freeview branded boxes on the market but I'm under the impression they will just be standard HD boxes.

    I don't see anything new in Freeview - i've been using a FTA digital reciever and all i get is the same channels four times (e.g. 7, 7digital, 7 digital 2 and 7 digital 3) with the same content. Exactly the same on Tivo (which is essentially a digital receiver on steriods).

    You've hit the nail on the head with the below quote:

    "On the other hand, it will only meaningfully expand your choices if (as in the UK) the extra channels start producing their own unique content -- and given Australia's audience size and the current advertising market, that seems a tad unlikely. Timeshift stations are useful, but not super-compelling."

    With a market of 80 million-ish viewers, and the ever increasing power of Sky (satellite) and the combined cable companies, the pommie terrestial broadcasters had no choice but to expand their channels with new content. However here in Australia, the commerical channels just show the same rubbish (mostly US-imported, "Reality" shows or jumped-up karaoke competitions). These channels have shown no interest in changing their game so will just simply lose the market share over time.

    I think the SBS and ABC will be the winners, as they have realised that different content needs to be produced. I'd like to see a 24-hour news channel like BBC World (I believe the ABC are looking into this, the SBS has the best reputation for "independence" and would probably work). The ABC already have ABC2 which doesn't show repeats of ABC1 - a good start.

    But for me, I'll continue with Foxtel - not because i want to, but just because there is content choice on there ad not just the same old American crap being re-shown endlessly.

    Well put pingudownunder, I agree with everything you say. As a pommie who is used to the UK set up, the choices here are limited to say the least. Foxtel has no competition and therefore treats its customer accordingly.
    To answer the question; I doubt Freeview will help the budget, but will be at least another option.

    "Freeview Australia has been heavily promoting itself..."

    When I first read this I had no idea at all what you were talking about. My TV watching is on average 1-2 hours a night, that all coming in through Channel Bittorent. With external hard drives sharing shows with other friends doing the same thing I rarely see ads, and the sharing means the bandwidth costs are shared too.

    Tv is abc ten channel 7 nine on the odd occasion so what else can free view do??? it cant give me more options as it only gives me the same 4 channels on each thing. I have 71,72, so on up to 6 and when i was watching the tennis the same show is on each channel this is crap i have all these channels i want a selection of shows to watch, If freeview can deliver this i will sell my left nut to a farmer named Harry to get it!!!

    I am just looking forward to Tens 24hour sports channel, which will hopefully mean the F1 will finally be shown LIVE every race.

    The network stations are dreading this Freeview and are pretty much being pushed by the government/regulator/whoever. It makes sense too - not only do they not have the content to fill the new stations, it will water down advertising exposure which brings in less money which means they can't buy more content. It will simply be a bigger version of what we have now with the HD channels vs SD - mostly the same programming with a few different programs that aren't worth watching anyway. Channel BitTorrent is all I watch now.

    I got to agree with citizendee, what can we expect from additonal channel. If i current show falls below a million viewers its taken off. I doubt the channels will be playing anything good on their additional channel to risk their profits. Damm... They have been damm slow rolling this out, they first flogged it in october 2008.

    If you read the Freeview media realeases, the EPG will only be available to the "Freeview" badged hardware. That is hardware that restricts ad skipping and usb connections. This is by far the largest driver of Freeview from the Commercial channels POV.

    Most early Digital TV adopters have has the benefits of ad skipping and usb for some time. now its time to go backwards!

    With all the talk about Freeview and the advertising about our cut off times, I'm still kinda confused about it all. In the regional areas of West Oz, we still have no idea when we can receive HDTV broadcasts from any of our channels, and no word of what Freeview is going to be offering as in programming? So far it seems to me that the local commercial channels are not changing any programming, it's going to be the same, includeing the ADC and SBS, so what benefit are we getting in the long run I wonder. Still we all have to make the switch by 2013, so we all either have to buy a hd ready tv, or a settop box. Oh well...I guess it's just a waiting game now??

    LOL
    Cheers all

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