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COMMENT: Free-to-air TV stations are desperately trying to cling to viewers and advertising revenue as the world transitions to a new era of digital TV, IPTV downloads, media centres, set-top boxes and subscription television. It’s quite clear that free-to-air TV stations, with the exception of the ABC, don’t give stuff about the people who watch their programs.

Advertising is being put to air that has the volume (effectively) turned up for commercial breaks in breach of self regulation guidelines. Traditional program times are suddenly being moved five or 10 minutes either side of an ad break. For example, a program that starts at 7.30 p.m. is suddenly going to air at 7.40 p.m. as stations desperately try stopping viewers from switching channels by making sure they have missed a program’s beginning on a competitor’s station.
 
If one is recording said program on a media centre, set-top box or personal video recorders (PVRs) such as Foxtel’s iQ, you will miss 10 minutes of this program as most EPG (Electronic Program Guide) software is set to record time zones instead of pulse codes sent out by the TV station. Then there is the issue of the amount of commercial breaks being crammed into a program. Last month, I timed four minutes between two program breaks.
 
Foxtel is also presently trying to woo customers with supposedly cheaper channel package deals. But it fails to spruik the omission of several key channels from its new basic package. Read the fine print and you’ll find that once you add in, say, sport and you’re actually paying a dollar more. Foxtel has, again, managed to charge new subscribers more for whilst offering less.

Over in the media centre market, the likes of HP are trying to sell media centres running Microsoft software that comes with an ICE TV EPG (Electronic Program Guide) service that one has to pay for. Europeans and Americans get an EPG for free.
 
The media centre vendors are also asking consumers to fork out between $2500 and $3000 for a PC running Intel Viiv hardware and Microsoft Media Center software with the high probability being that these systems will quickly date when Microsoft launches a new version of Media Center and Intel updates its Viiv hardware.
 
Consumers prefer not to wait for live TV show to air, if given the option. They don’t want to be dictated to by TV stations as to when they can watch a program. As a result, PVR sales are skyrocketing in the same way VCRs did in the ’80s and ’90s. The problem is that free-to-air stations are doing everything within their power to screw consumers over. They are not only changing on-air times, they are putting pulse codes into programs to make skipping through commercials more difficult.
 
They are also threatening technology companies with legal action if they dare to re produce an up-to-date electronic program guide, which is the reason that Media Centre PCs come with a limited service.
 
What we need is super-fast broadband and access to global content so that consumers have the choice of watching what they want, when they want.

We also need a reliable EPG service based on program pulse codes so that consumers can set PVRs to record programs of choice.  We can also do without companies such as Philips greasing up to broadcasters and advertising agencies by developing technology that prevents TV commercials being skipped through on PVR devices.

I wonder how Australians will react to such schemes when they arrive?

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