Freeview is facing an uncertain future in Australia after the regional TV Network WIN–which reaches 42% of Australian homes–said they are set to dump the service. WIN has described Freeview as “making little sense”.Freeview, which was established in 2008, is jointly owned by ABC, SBS, Seven, Nine, Ten, Prime7 and Southern Cross. It uses technology that restricts the removal or the fast forwarding of advertising on TV sets, Blu ray players and set top boxes.
It was launched because TV stations want to control the recording of content so that consumers are unable to ad skip. They also want to control what consumers are watching due to digital rights management issues.
Late in 2011 all the commercial broadcasters agreed in principle to a merger of Freeview, Free TV and RBA. Internally management have been told that the plan was to cut costs and streamline the agenda of free-to-air broadcasters following the successful launch of digital channels including 7Mate, 11 and Gem. The new body would retain the name Freeview the Australian newspaper said.
The chairman of Freeview, ABC director Kim Dalton, and general manager Liz Ross declined to comment on the move that could open the way up for third party EPG provider Ice TV.
The decision to quit follows a failed plan to fold the organisation into the peak industry body for commercial broadcasters, Free TV, and Regional Broadcasting Australia (RBA), creating a super industry body the Australian newspaper revealed.
One source said WIN was no longer prepared to pay for “a marketing body” it believed served little purpose. WIN declined to comment, but another member of Free TV said the organisation was no longer fit for purpose for the FTA industry’s new priorities: “We don’t see value in Freeview as an organisation,” the source said.
“It did a good job advertising the new digital channels but I don’t think a part-time organisation could handle launching a catch-up TV service.”
The takeover push was led by Nine managing director Jeffrey Browne, who even sought legal advice on how it would work.
However, the secret plan was scuttled when Seven replaced outgoing sales executive James Warburton with Seven commercial director Bruce McWilliam and he rejected it.
WIN has asked that the other shareholders buy it out but that has not happened yet, a Freeview source said.
When Freeview was launched in Australia David Ackery, the General Manager of Harvey Norman Electrical, was critical of Freeview. At the time he said that Australian TVs and set top boxes did not need Freeview to deliver consumers a “good viewing experience”.
He said that Freeview was needed for small set top boxes that are currently being used to upgrade existing and old TVs into a digital TV.
“I accept that a lot of new digital TVs do not need to be Freeview certified however we do need some form of digital converter box for the thousands of Australians who cannot afford the move to a new digital TV set.” He said.
In a statement issued by Freeview the organisation said that “the introduction of a next generation Freeview Electronic Program would not be hampered by the withdrawal of WIN, and Freeview would “continue to deliver the EPG to WIN customers”.
Currently Freeview is developing a catch-up television service similar to the ABC’s iView service.
Shortly IceTV will launch a new EPG service that allows consumers to get access to an electronic program guide, movies and applications.