Freeview boss concedes its HbbTV regional offering is ‘complex’ due to absence of Prime and WIN

Liz RossFreeview Australia’s general manager Liz Ross has conceded the absence of two major regional broadcasters from its new HbbTV offering Freeview Plus has created a “complex” picture for consumers outside the five major metropolitan markets.

As Mumbrella revealed earlier this year, Prime Media withdrew from the industry body in June citing concerns about the market penetration in regional areas of HbbTV while WIN has not been a member of Freeview since 2012, leaving Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) as the only dedicated regional commercial broadcaster with a Freeview Plus offering.

SCA’s digital director Clive Dickens said that the absence of Prime and WIN was unfortunate as it gave rise to a perception of a two speed economy when it came to the free-to-air offering, while Ross admitted “it is a bit of a complex map”.

She added: “Broadly speaking regional Australians will receive the Southern Cross services that are available in their area and in some cases they deliver more than one service, for example in some places they deliver a Seven service and a Ten service. They will also have the ABC and SBS service.

“In a market like regional Queensland that regional service is actually delivered by Seven, there is no Prime. So in regional Queensland they will get the Southern Cross Ten service, the Seven service the ABC and SBS service. You have different scenarios in different parts of the country.”

Dickens added: “Freeview Plus was an important step for the television industry and not just SCA shareholders. We shouldn’t be a two speed economy – we should avoid the suggestion that this is something that gave some kind of preference to the metropolitan audiences of Australia as opposed to the national population.

“With retailers, consumers and other stakeholders there is that risk (of being seen as a two speed economy) because as of today not all of the free-to-air industry has optimised but we can only control the things we can control.”

In June, Prime Media CEO Ian Audsley told Mumbrella that he does not believe the regional market is ready for internet enabled HBBTV.

“We are talking about half of one per cent potential penetration and that’s before you get to how many of those 16,000 TV sets might actually be connected,” said Audsley.

“We are of the view that it is not sufficiently developed to support it commercially so we had to make the decision to pull out.”

Freeview’s Ross said they were aware of the challenge in terms of marketing to consumers, particularly in regional areas, and had tailored their campaign to include postcode searches to allow them to look at what services were available for them.

“We knew straight away that we have to help consumers understand the complexity so we have a postcode search on our website,” she said. Our TV ad also has an additional message telling consumers to go to the website and plug their postcode in.”

Earlier in the week Freeview said it was hoping for 10 per cent penetration for the new Hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV) television service, which launched on Tuesday, in its first year of operation.

Ross also signalled Prime and WIN were welcome to return to the industry body. “Absolutely (they are welcome). They know that and I talk to the them regularly,” she said. “We absolutely have that door open to them.”

SCA’s Dickens said he would also like to see his rivals join the service.

“I work on the glass half full mentality and I’d like to think we can do some work over the next few months to encourage the free-to-air industry that this is a investment worth making,” he said.

Nic Christensen 


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