Thursday, February 12, 2009

What is Freeview?

Australian TV viewers will undoubtedly have seen ads over the summer for
something called "Freeview".  There isn't a lot of hard information in the
one minute ad, only a teaser to "stay tuned".  My curiosity being what it
is, a few weeks ago I decided to investigate...

Obviously there's an official website, but it's just brochureware and
feelgood marketing-speak.  Not much has changed since I last looked at
the site.  Fortunately, there's a Wikipedia entry:
"Freeview (Australia) is the brand given to the digital terrestrial
television platform in Australia. Freeview will bring all of the
free-to-air broadcasters on to a consistent platform for marketing
purposes. Formed to assist the promotion of digital television in
Australia, the non-for-profit organisation comprises the free-to-air

Also from the Wikipedia entry: "Freeview has announced that the service
will launch with 15 channels, three from each of the current Free-to-air

Sounds ok, doesn't it?  But when you look closer, you discover Freeview
doesn't really offer much more than what is already available.  If you've
got an old analog TV, you can buy any digital set top box (STB) or personal
video recorder (PVR) and get access to 15 digital channels, right now,
without waiting for Freeview to launch.  Note that 10 of these channels are
standard definition (SD), and five are high definition (HD).  Each network
has two SD channels and one HD channel.  In most cases, the network's HD
channel broadcasts the same content as one of the SD channels.  Freeview
will be much the same.  Hmmm.

Sydney Morning Herald blogger, aturner, sees something more sinister in
this re-branding exercise.  A recent rant on the digihub blog has the
provocative title: "Freeview - the great Aussie TV swindle?"

Apparently, there will be "Freeview compliant" set top boxes (and digital
recorders).  These devices won't allow ad-skipping, and will make it hard
to transfer content from them.  But they will have a new combined "Freeview
EPG interface" (EPG = electronic program guide).  Note that channels
already provide EPG info, which can be viewed on existing STBs and PVRs.

arturner's conclusion:  "The more you look at it, the more Freeview looks
like a con job. The networks realise they can't stop vendors from selling
PVRs which offer ad-skipping, but they can trick people into not buying
them by denying them the Freeview logo. Don't believe the hype, Freeview
is merely a fancy new name to distract you from the fact you're getting the
same old shows, ads and all."

I guess we'll find out what all the fuss is about later this year.