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Just what exactly *is* Freeview?

· 4 min read

For a little while now, we've been seeing ads on TV for a new soon-to-be-upon-us service called Freeview. Well okay, my interest was raised... mainly because of the promised "15 new free to air channels". Note, the "new" part was my misunderstanding - ie it was implied, but not declared, as we shall soon see.

So anyway, I went on a small hunt to find out exactly what this Freeview thing is, and I'm sorry to report that it's basically nothing but smoke.

Ok, let's be serious for a second. Freeview is simply a meaningless brand created to represent a conglomeration of Australian television stations - both commercial (7, Nine, ten, etc) and non-commerical (ABC, SBS, etc).

So what does Freeview give us? Well, quite simply, not much at all!

"Now hold on!", I hear you say, "what about the 15 new channels?!"

Well, about that, let me make two points:

  1. First off, there are not going to be 15 new channels... Sure, there are going to be some new channels, but definitely not 15.

    To be fair, the Freeview ads do not explicitly say that there will be 15 new channels. They simply express the "15 channels" line as if its something that is totally new. Even the official What is Freeview page (warning: very slow Flash website) says:

    More channels and more choice - 15 channels!

    as if to imply "15 more channels to choose from". But that simply is not true. Note, however, that they don't lie... that is, they didn't actually say "15 new channels".

    So then, just how many (if any) new channels will there be? Well, the point here is this: of the "15 channels!" that Freeview is referring to, nine of them are already here, and were long before I heard any mention of Freeview. Also, at least one of the six (or less) remaining "new" channels will be a HD simulcast of an existing ten channel anyway.

    But still, five new channels might be nice... depending on what content that stations decide to broadcast.

  2. The second point to note here, is that any such new stations (be they 15 or just 5), are not being brought to you by Freeview! That is to say, each of the relevant TV stations can (and will) broadcast those new channels with absolutely no dependency on Freeview in any way (note, there may be some government regulatory issues though, which I am not privy too).

So, what does Freeview provide?! Well, simply, two things:

  1. Branding! Branding is a marketing thing... that is, it's used to affect markets! In this case, so far as I can tell, the desired affect is to "promote" (ie increase sales of) digital TV products and services.

    In other wards, the Freeview brand is being used in an attempt to convince consumers to upgrade, not only their old analog TV systems to digital, but also their not-so-old standard-definition TV systems for the newer high-definition systems (as a number of the new and old channels are only available in HD).

    I, personally, do not see this as a bad thing. The TV stations benefit (presumably) by being able to switch off their analog broadcasts earlier (or at least without further regulatory delays). The TV / set-top-box manufacturers benefit by being able to sell new products. And the consumers benefit by having a distinct (Freeview) "logo" stamped on products that are "guaranteed" to work for all 15 stations - although that really means nothing more than just a HD tuner, consumers still like having a logo / brand to put their minds at ease... just look at "Centrino" - tech-speak for "nothing much" ;)

  2. A combined EPG (Electronic Program Guide). Yes, that's right, this new fan-dangled Freeview thing will provide us with a single, unified, EPG, from which we can see what's showing on all channels at once (or something like that). Again, this is a good thing... just not much ;)

So, to recap: Freeview is a new marketing moniker that should help to drive digital-TV uptake here in Australia, at the same time as providing a combined EPG. And that's it.

Freeview will not be providing any new TV channels, however a Freeview-compliant TV/STB will "guarantee" you access to the soon-to-be 15 free-to-air channels - but, of course, you can get all of those regardless of any Freeview-compliance, as long as you have the appropriate hardware.

Freeview is a good thing... it's just no revolution - and in fact, it's barely an evolution, if at all.

But I am still looking forward to it (a combined EPG will be handy), just not with eager anticipation ;)