A new campaign kicked off last night promoting Freeview, the new digital offerings by Australia’s free-to-air television networks. This is the second campaign in less than 6 months, coming on the heals of the much talked about November launch which promised a whole new world of options and entertainment from January 2009.
I was convinced and couldn’t wait to see what was going to be broadcast. I even installed a new set-top box in anticipation.
So how disappointed do you think I was, and thousands of other viewers, when January came and went with no new Freeview channels launching? In fact there wasn’t a commercial offering until March when the TEN Network finally unveiled ONE, their new dedicated sports channel. In the meantime, the best Freeview viewing came from an online parody of the Freeview promotional campaign, which proved to be much closer to the truth than what the campaign promised.
Now, as April draws to a close, we are still no closer to seeing Nine and Seven’s Freeview channels. Meanwhile the industry is trotting out another campaign, with a new agency at the helm, with a more modest promise: “More moments, five more channels. Freeview, more for free”.
The truth is that the free to air Television industry doesn’t seem to have much appetite for the Freeview concept. They are struggling for revenue in the downturn and don’t want the costs associated with launching more channels. Like most of the Australian media industry, they’ve been trying to ignore the impending digital conversion. Just look at how radio has botched the long awaited conversion.
So why are they persisting with campaigns for product that barely exists? It seems a case of putting the cart well and truly before the horse.
Nine and Seven haven’t even decided what program formats they will be running, let alone set a launch date. Consumers are not likely to see five more channels carrying different content from the free-to-air networks until October or November. SBS2 is expected to launch within three months, while children’s channel ABC3 and Seven are aiming for a probable November launch. Nine will only commit to launching a general entertainment channel in the second half of this year.
In regional areas its even worse. The campaign is being broadcast despite the fact that the only commercial station offering, ONE, hasn’t been turned on outside of the capital cities yet. This has resulted in the affiliate stations such as Sothern Cross TEN, receiving a large number of complaints from frustrated and disappointed viewers expecting to see the new digital channel.
Meanwhile, subscription TV continues to add innovations to its services that is proving very attractive to audiences.
Will Freeview be a matter of too little too late, having over-promised and under-delivered? Unless the networks begin taking their digital offerings more seriously they could find themsleves being left behind and ignored by an audience that has found more interesting sources of entertainment.