As Freeview rolls out another promotional campaign, their 3rd by my count, to tell us how ‘everybody loves it’ I can’t help but think what a wasted opportunity this has been for the free to air TV industry.
In the last few years Australia has gone from 5 FTA networks (ABC, SBS, Nine, Seven & TEN – plus affiliates) to 16 stations. In what should have been an excellent opportunity to grow market share and thwart the multiple threats of subscription TV, web downloads and a generally distracted, multitasking population, FTA have managed to roll out very few reasons to tune in.
The commercial stations have been the worst offenders. 7 Mate, 7 Two, GO!, Gem and 11 are all home to tired repeats and second rate programming. I can honestly say that I have never had any reason to switch on four of these five channels. The promise of quality programs that weren’t quite ratings friendly enough for the main channels running in prime time slots on the new digital channels hasn’t really eventuated. There are a few quality programs buried in the schedules, usually at less than friendly times. But there’s plenty of I Love Lucy, Hogans Heroes, ‘Allo ‘Allo and other retro schtick if you’re into that sort of thing.
For example look at tonight’s programs on the newer commercial channels:
Channel 730pm 830pm 930pm
ONE Cops Mysteries of Survival 1 Week at a Time
11 Futurama/Futurama Supernatural Dexter
7Two Heartbeat Jonathan Creek Gil Mayo Mysteries
7Mate How I Met..Mother Family Guy/American Dad Family Guy x 2
GEM The Zoo Mary Queen of Shops Kitchen Nightmares
GO! Wipeout Top Gear Two 1/2 Men
Not exactly groundbreaking television is it? Sure Family Guy and American Dad have been critical hits but they are being flogged to death on high repeat on 7Mate now.
At least ONE (part of the TEN Network) made an attempt to offer a real alternative as a sports-focused channel. I suspect their long-term plan was to win more significant broadcast rights over time but this has been stymied by the Packer-Murdoch investment in TEN, seemingly to protect their FOXTEL investment. Since then ONE has been repositioned to be a blokey channel with sport and some programs last seen 3 years ago on PayTV.
As usual, its left to ABC and SBS to push the envelope. Kudos must go to ABC who have launched ABC2 (a worthwhile extension of their overall programming and an opportunity to catch up on previous night’s main shows), ABC3 as a dedicated children’s channel, and ABC24 as a dedicated 24 hour news channel. At least these have added value to the overall market.
I understand the 3 commercial network’s hunger for ratings leads to broad, populist programming like Dancing with the Stars, Masterchef and CSI:Everything, but surely they could have used their secondary channels to foster a few strong niches with a focus on quality. This would give advertisers the chance to direct spending to tighter demographics and potentially attract new advertisers, in the way SBS has done over the years.
Meanwhile, 3 times as many FTA channels has actually resulted in me watching even less FTA TV. Its an opportunity wasted.
What do you think: Are you also watching more or less FTA television these days? What would you do with the new digital channels?