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

Why We Are Going To Miss Free-To-Air TV
Image: Getty Images

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.


  • Frankly, if it all went to shit and we ended up with the FTA channels broadcasting just News, that wouldn’t be awful, except!! Most of the News services with the exception of ABC and SBS are right royally biased and more generally right than left because the right owns them, the content is repeated Ad nauseam on all stations and overseas content except for SBS is pretty much non-existent. Apparently, like the Yanks, Aussies now too think we are the centre of the Universe.

  • I haven’t watched FTA at home in Australia for 20 years, and for some time before that I recorded everything so that I only watched what I absolutely wanted. The cost to my sanity of Australian FTA far outweighs any monetary outlay for Netflix et al.

    The good old days of Australian TV disappeared some time in the early 90s. I think the marker was when Channel 7 decided to show 1.5 episodes of BlackAdder in a single timeslot padded out with an astonishing amount of advertising.

  • I won’t miss free-to-air TV at all! All it is is brainless (and heavily scripted) “reality” TV shows (that promote underhanded backstabbing behavior), depressing news broadcasts (heavily biased towards the Liberal National Party to spread ScoMo’s lies and fear mongering), pathetic soapies that prove the word “acting” has an extremely broad definition, brainless bimbos touting tabloid gossip as news on morning shows (like going on about bloody Megan Markle every 5 mins every single mind-numbing morning, between countless infomercials for scam products and insurance scams), and far far too many bloody ads (primarily gambling ads, ads for loansharking services, insurance scams and at least two United Australia Party campaign ads each and every ad break)!!! Over 60% of all airtime is just advertising!!!

    Free-to-air TV is a complete dumpster fire and its death couldn’t come swiftly enough!

    Free-to-air TV now panders to brainless millennials that have the IQ’s of rocks and the attention spans of goldfish, so they don’t miss anything when they are using Social Media (that hate group safe-haven you’ve been hearing about) on their phones while the TV provides background noise.

    Netflix and Stan FTW! Foxtel is an even bigger joke as they convinced people to pay hand-over-fist for duplicate channels, constant repeats and just as many ads as free-to-air TV!

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!