Australian Broadcast Networks Launch New Broadband TV Service

Chris Raphael/FOX
US fare such as 24:Live Another Day will be available on the HbbTV service

Freeview Plus will offer on-demand services via free-to-air TV for the first time in a possible boost to U.S. shows like "Revenge" and "The Good Wife" that tend to do well in time-shifted viewing.

SYDNEY - Australia’s consortium of free to air TV networks, Freeview, has confirmed a Sep. 2 launch date for its long awaited HbbTV service which will be marketed under the name Freeview Plus.

Freeview Plus is based on HbbTV (Hybrid broadband broadcast TV) technology, already implemented in Europe, that will provide viewers who have compliant TV sets or set top boxes, with an advanced interactive EPG (electronic program guide).  It will integrate the networks' online catch up and on demand services via free to air TV for the first time, giving greater access to network's content as audiences increasingly fragment. While audiences for U.S. dramas on Australian TV are waning, shows like Revenge and The Good Wife are strong on catch up and ratings can see an uplift of 20% in time shifted viewing

Marketing for the service gets under way Friday with a new ad campaign from Freeview.

“FreeviewPlus is one of the most important advances in free-to-air television in Australia since the introduction of digital TV so it’s important we start to generate a buzz about the new service among Australian viewers,” Liz Ross, general manager of Freeview, said.

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At the core of the Freeview Plus service is an HbbTV or broadband delivered free-to-air TV electronic program guide incorporating features that Freeview says “will offer Australian consumers an unrivalled viewing experience." The technology will also enable the free-to-air networks to introduce a range of new broadband services.

Freeview said that TV and set top manufacturers and suppliers would release a range of FreeviewPlus receivers to coincide with the launch of FreeviewPlus. They will be available from all major appliance and electronics retailers.

Some Panasonic TV’s recently released are already HBB TV compliant. Only those products that carry the Freeview Plus logo will be able to access the range of HBBTV services.

Designed to keep pace with paynet Foxtel’s iQ service, Freeview said FreeviewPlus will offer a range of new features including: a 7-day, easy-to-use EPG; access to available FTA Catch Up TV in one place on the TV; recommendations of the best programs on today, on Catch Up and in the future; the ability to browse and search programs across the next 7 days; and a favourites function that keeps track of programs on live and Catch Up TV.

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However unlike Foxtel’s EPG and iQ system which has a built in PVR, viewers will not be able to record shows directly from the EPG unless they have a compliant PVR.

Foxtel meanwhile is readying to launch version 3 of its iQ later this year alongside a new triple play strategy allowing subscribers to bundle a broadband connection, a Foxtel subscription and a phone service in the one package.

Multicultural broadcaster SBS broke ranks with its Freeview members by launching a beta HbbTV version of its catch up service SBS On Demand around six weeks ago. And regional broadcasters Prime TV - a Seven Network affiliate and WIN TV - a Nine Network affiliate - recently resigned from Freeview reportedly after deciding not contribute to HBB TV’s marketing costs.

Prime CEO Ian Audsley in June said of its departure from Freeview “It is conditional for Freeview membership that shareholders participate in HBBTV and we’re of the view that the regional television market is not developed enough to support HBBTV at this time.

“The set of protections for HBBTV capable sets in regional Australia at this time is (projected at) 16,754 sets in early FY15. Now that’s a penetration of less than half of one per cent in our market of 3.9 million TV sets,” he said.