For most of the time, our free-to-air networks are fighting the battlegrounds of the all-important ratings, defending their territories (ie. audience shares), justifying their existences and, sometimes, sending out smarmy press releases to try and taint or taunt the opposition.
But from tonight, a little bit of that fierce rivalry is chipped away, just slightly, with the launch of Freeview.
Freeview is an initiative of a collective of networks – ABC, Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS, NBN, WIN, Southern Cross, Prime – as they push to get more viewers to switch from the analogue technology that we’ve been watching since the 1950s to the digital signals that have been rolling out across the country since 2001.
In launching Freeview to the public this evening, all participating networks took the rare opportunity to promote the brand in a “roadblock” style – having the same promotion broadcast simultaneously across all networks, including ABC and SBS, at exactly the same time – 6.29pm – essentially capturing everybody watching free-to-air TV at one of the most-watched times of the evening.
The ultimate goal of Freeview is to have everyone switched over to digital in time for when analogue signals start being switched off over the next few years.
Previous attempts by the industry to boost the take-up of digital have been rather low-key and less than motivating. This was, in some ways, not helped by the tight regulations inflicted by the government on what the commercial networks especially would be allowed to do with digital.
But now with Freeview, all the free-to-air networks are offering a large-scale uniform branding exercise to broadly promote digital television and the benefits that it has – namely multi-channeling by the networks through both high-definition and standard-definition (allowed from the commercial sector from 2009) and an electronic program guide.
All up, Freeview promises 15 individual channels, comprising three from each of the five networks – ABC, Seven/Prime/SCTV, Nine/WIN/NBN, Ten/SCTen and SBS – which includes the existing digital channels already available.
Freeview also takes a swipe at subscription television by emphasising the multi-channel option and that once the equipment is purchased there are no ongoing contracts or fees.
The branding exercise will also be extended to the retail of set-top-boxes and digital TV equipment from next year.