Why We Are Going To Miss Free-To-Air TV

Free-to-air TV is under attack. Streaming services, YouTube, and easy, unlicensed access to content over the internet have all given traditional broadcasters a massive kick in the butt.

But I wonder if in a a few year’s time we’ll see that bygone era as the good old days as the media landscape fractures. For starters, it now costs us more to sit at home and watch TV.

When I grew up, we had three commercial TV stations and the ABC. Then SBS came and, by the time I reached adulthood, Foxtel and Optus TV arrived. And it stayed like that with most of the “good” content available over free-to-air (FTA) TV.

Jumping ahead, we now have FTA spread across over a dozen channels but it’s a bit like the Springsteen song 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On). Most of the content is re-runs and reality shows. Occasionally, there’s the second most important sport in your home state but commercial TV has become a wasteland.

Meanwhile Netflix and Stan, as the most popular streaming services, along with Amazon Prime, go from strength to strength and produce original content as well as licensing movies and TV shows from other studios.

We’re now reaching a time when a new-release movie with high profile stars is almost as likely to appear on Netflix as the local cineplex.

But with the likes of Disney and DC now launching their own services, the shows we want to watch will be split across multiple “channels”. The big difference being that each station now costs $10-$20 per month to access.

There’s no doubt that we currently have access to a far broader library of content than ever before. But I can’t help but think TV studios missed the boat entirely. They struggled with the concept of “on demand” for years – they had the infrastructure, but lacked the vision and courage to make it happen over terrestrial systems.

A viable business model might have been broadcasting high quality content over the air with on-demand a paid service. So, let’s say you tuned into tonight’s episode of Home and Away on FTA – that would be free. But access to the streaming service, so you could catch up or binge a week’s worth of episodes while sitting in bed on Saturday morning would cost you either a micro-payment for that specific access or a monthly subscription.

The technology to do this is available. But the ship has sailed on the opportunity.

The big loser, I think, is Foxtel who have bled subscribers as streaming services have smashed them with a lower cost, higher value and more convenient service. But FTA’s audience is shrinking with little hope of recovery.

Despite all this progress, it now costs us more to sit at home and watch TV. FTA has poor quality, Foxtel failed to turn its subscriber base into a viable market and newcomers have swept in.

The net result – we pay more cash now to do something we used to pay for by watching ads. And, for many families, I suspect the cost of being able to watch a decent movie at home is becoming a real stretch.


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