Free To Air TV Still Struggling With The New Digital Era

The latest submission by mainstream commercial TV channels to the government’s review of media convergence unearths some new ways free-to-air TV would like to irritate us: even less commitment to timeslots and a reduced obligation to provide children’s programming. But I am sympathetic to their desire for local content rules to spread across multiple channels.

We told you about the government convergence review earlier this year, and looked at the initial reactions from Free TV Australia (the umbrella body for Australia’s commercial networks). Since then, the government has issued a framing paper covering the issues to be considered by the review, and Free TV Australia’s submission contains some interesting new insights into how commercial networks would like to see TV evolve. Unsurprisingly, the things most Lifehacker readers would like to see happen — commercial networks actually running shows when they say they will and running entire series once they start them — are nowhere on the list.

Indeed, the submission argues that the existence of recording technologies means that existing rules about what times particular shows should appear are now largely irrelevant:

Consumers are now creating their own schedules for content consumption without even being aware that they are moving between platforms, let alone regulatory environments. As at May 2011, PVR penetration in Australia was 42% – timeshifting increasingly makes timezones irrelevant.

While time-shifting is clearly a useful technology, it’s somewhat disingenuous to pretend that it is now so widespread that existing timeslots have no meaning at all. As Tim over at Mumbrella points out, ratings suggest that 90% of people still watch programming when it’s transmitted, rather than recording it and watching it later. Doubtless that behaviour is influenced by the singular inability of commercial networks to actually stick to their quoted timeslots, and their frequent habit of dumping a show after two weeks.

The submission also argues that the requirement that 260 hours a year of children’s programming and 130 hours of preschool programming is “overly burdensome”, pointing to the existence of alternatives such as DVD, online entertainment, and dedicated pay TV and free-to-air children’s channels. I suspect that the networks haven’t entirely thought this through in business terms. Undoubtedly those channels provide an alternative, but I can’t help thinking that as a mass-market channel, if you don’t offer something to attract younger viewers, they’ll never become older viewers. I already know children who are far more concerned about what’s on Nick than what shows up on any mainstream network. That doesn’t bode well for the ongoing need for TV networks to demonstrate to advertisers that they are attracting a younger demographic.

The argument with which I’m most sympathetic is that local content rules should apply to the entire suite of channels from any one provider, rather than just on a single channel. Right now, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any new local content on the secondary digital commercial channels, with the big and notable exception of Neighbours on Eleven. Given that we’re now two years away from these channels being available to everyone as part of digital switchover, allowing channels to spread their local drama investments (for instance) over multiple channels seems sensible.

The core of the commercial channel argument is that regulations currently apply very differently depending on platforms — the rules for a TV show shown online are quite different to those shown on a free-to-air channel. That is a fair point, and one which goes beyond TV itself (the ongoing debate over games classification falls into the same category). However, there’s still work to be done in demonstrating how consumers are actually served by commercial TV’s often irritating behaviour.

Free TV Australia [PDF submission via ]

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


  • My main concern with allowing the drama quota on multichannels is that they will be able to slip in more cheap NZ content without raising the suspicions that come with putting it at 11:30 on the main channel does.

    As for children’s programming, the networks should have the option of funding content on ABC3 and 4Kids, there’s no reason they can’t both pay for content for children and not have it fill their schedules – and means the ABC can spend their money on other programming rather than the 2 kids channels and the kids still get all the crap.

  • Ok, I’m confused,… What is Freeview actually doing for the viewer? Firstly IMO they purposely give shows erratic start and finish times, often by over twenty minutes so people who try to record shows have a hard time actually getting to see the end. Why, I may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist here, but I think it’s to stop people from skipping ads as they can with a modern recorder. If you use one of the Freeview enabled recorder however you can only fast forward, and even then you are still messed around by their scheduling stupidity, which is supposed to be a non issue with their boxes… Freeveiw my fat arse!!

  • ABC 4 kids is brilliant, and about the only channel my kids watch.

    I try to watch WRC on oneHD, it gets shifted all the way out of the timeslot it was meant to be on.

    I am sick of things being moved (my wife has had to catch up with ‘offspring’ online because of masterchef running over).

    I am so sick of HD channels showing 30 year old shows and news, whilst brand new HD stuff like top gear, house MD or planet earth gets shown in SD.

    Also, PVR penetration sounds great in theory, when the damn thing works! I use a PS3 with playTV, and it is the most buggy, unreliable piece of junk… to the point where I’m going to JB and buying a dedicated PVR in the next week or so.

  • Does anyone honestly expect Freeview to submit recommendations that it’s viewers actually want? Surely by now they know what people want, it’s pretty clear they don’t want to do that, so their recommendations would be around ensuring their current business model (and their ideal business model) remains intact.

  • Children do not make purchases adults do. Pester power is significant but you’re going to make more money marketing to a key decision maker. TV shows are just fillers between the ads that fund the network and nothing more.

    Free TV… “if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”*


  • The only good kids programming is on ABC. Let the other stations officially give it up – all they do is put on junk filled with violence anyway.

    And the ABC must make a lot of money out of selling DVDs and other merchandise for shows that they make popular (I don’t have a problem with this because they are quality shows). If anyone else followed their model they could do okay too.

  • Or for areas that have been switched over, you take those programs off the main channel, we don’t get it at all. The last season of the Amazing Race was shown on 7Mate, which was not rebroadcast in my district. We’ve only just gained Channels 9 and Eleven. No Commercial HD channels, nor the majority of the SD channels. Also I’m of the same belief with starting and finishing programs later than the scheduled time. My local bus runs closer to time than the FTA networks. Restricting programs to off-rating periods such as How I Met Your Mother, etc. Channel BT is a viable alternative, given that you can only see on iTunes what has been aired. I’m happy to pay for programs I like, and as such I have PayTV. Only thing that FTA has done that I really do appreciate being able to access Catchup/iView unrestrticted.

  • I enjoy the “cheap NZ programming”. We have taken to adding half an hour (or so) of padding to the recording scheduling, and if we want to record a few things, then we get out the computer with eyeTV and record that way also. (also with padding.)

    the ABC goes the other way- the Doctor Who tends to start a smidge early!

  • Two words bittv channel.

    Honestly, can’t be bothered waiting, hoping that our commercial tv broadcasters will treat us like intelligent human begins & bring the programs we’d actually like to see instead of the crap they keep shoving down our throats (I’m looking at you master chief, biggest loser & dances with the stars), & praying that when they do, they put it on @ a reasonable time and actually have the courage and decentcy to keep showing it till the end.

    I’m sorry, but I they’ve shown a distinct lack of professionalism & customer focus. If they really want these changes, then they should be required to keep to there own promises/schedules, otherwise they will continue to be the cause of there own demise as people shift to a more reliable medium.

  • They just dont seem to get that they are their own worst enemy.I would happily watch a show as its broadcast if it started on time and knew the entire series would be shown.

    Because they play their silly games i have resorted to recording everything and only watch sport live.

    Now the NBN is in town i’ll soon be using channel BT, and free TV drove me to that.

  • can someone explain why channel one is no longer in hd isn’t that the advantage of digital????
    and why can’t you get channel 9 on hd but u can gem, gem is crap, i go to watch the footy on a friday night looks ok then i watch it on foxtel and it’s a hundred times better and it’s recorded by nine yes the little in the corner…disgraceful no care for the viewers just 9’s back pockets

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