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Foxtel to launch catch-up TV service as ABC boss laments inability of free networks to work together on Aussie Hulu

Anthony Fitzgerald MCN

Fitzgerald: Announced catch-up TV service (file)

The subscription TV industry looks set to beat the free to air networks to launching a multi channel catch-up TV service, with a new offering to become available next year.

The revelation came from Anthony Fitzgerald, CEO of pay TV sales house MCN, just three days after ABC boss Mark Scott complained that free to air networks had been unable to work together.

The best known catch-up TV service is the four-year-old Hulu in the US, which offers on demand streaming video supported by advertising.

Speaking at a press briefing on the coming year in subscription TV, Fitzgerald revealed that there would be no further charge to Foxtel and Austar susbcribers to access the catch-up content via set top boxes connected to the internet. The move will replace the current limited on demand service which subscribers pay for.

Fitzgerald said: “In March or April we will be moving to a free catch up TV service. We’ve already got tens of thousands of boxes connected to the internet.”

Fitzgerald said that a marketing campaign for the service – and to persuade subscribers to plug their boxes into the Internet – would start in the New Year.

He said that although the service would not contain every show, it would include “the key relevant programming” from each channel. The service, which will see streams available at “broadcastlike” quality, will be ad supported.

There will be also deals done to make the service available on other third part digital boxes.

Fitzgerald said: “We have over one million set top boxes broadband enabled and we have all the content in the world.”

The move contrasts with that of the free TV sector, with each network taking its own apporach. The ABC is furthest ahead, with its iView service. Nine’s catchup TV service on NineMSN is available only to those who download Microsoft’s Silverlight software. Seven offers a limited selection of programming on Plus7 while Ten also offers a range of catch-up content on its own site.

On Friday, the ABC’s MD Scott predicted that viewers are ready to move away from simply watching what’s scheduled. He said:”If you are still asking what’s on television tonight, you are just showing your age.”

And he went public on his frustrations over free TV’s inability to work together to deliver a unified catch-up TV service.

He told the Walkleys conference in Brisbane: “The audience watching catch-up television through the ABC’s iView is ten times what is was less than three years ago – and our research suggests only a third of the Australian public knows what it is. Its potential growth is enormous.

“What the ABC has demonstrated with iview is that an audience is there for great content, well curated and delivered in an accessible format. Our research suggests that when audiences discover iview – they love it, they use it, they keep coming back to it. More than ever, with the iview app, Australians are taking a tablet and going to bed. And this summer, when iview comes to the iPhone, so many more people will have a choice of 500 of our programs to watch on the bus.

“But internet programming will increasingly be received and experienced as television – on a big home screen or a mobile one. Television as internet and internet as television – wherever the internet goes, so too goes an advertising superpower: Google.

“This can only add to the challenges for the advertising-supported television services. And that means challenges for Australian content, so much of which has always depended upon those services.

“I think it’s disappointing that to date, Australian free-to-air television networks have not been able to work together to create a local version of Hulu – a place where so much of what is on television is available for catch-up and personalised programming where it is available.

“With free–to–air currently holding a market share of more than 80% of primetime TV viewing – and with the example of iview – this could have been a blockbuster in terms of positioning for a fast broadband world.

“And it would have been a great defensive play for when a Hulu actually lands here to offer seamless broadband viewing with fresh and archival global content. And defensive against the deep pocketed ambitions of a Foxtel, backed by Telstra and a few other significant household names in Australia’s media.

“The ABC did offer to make the iview architecture available to enable this. And we would look to find ways to have the iview content up on this new site, as well as keeping iview. It hasn’t happened so far.

“To date, audiences are still more lucrative in front of linear television, with the volume of advertising that can be sold in that forum. And if there is to be catch-up content, the idea of putting it alongside a competitor’s content on the same service can seem like it’s a bridge too far.

“There are rights issues, management issues, technological and revenue issues. And let’s face it, it can be difficult to get competitors to work together. I hope we can.”

Nobody from Free TV was immediately available for comment.

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